Canandaigua’s Sonnenberg Gardens Will Delight You

story and photos by Libby Cook

Despite last week’s bitter, wintry interruption to the recent streak of sunny weather, the region embraced spring once again over the weekend. This time, the season was celebrated in a more colorful fashion at the Canandaigua Orchid Show at the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park.

Sonnenberg mansion

My day trip to Canandaigua began with the scenic drive from Ithaca, which included gorgeous views of Cayuga, Seneca and Canandaigua Lake. When I arrived at the park, the area was quiet, with only a few other visitors exploring the grounds. The 50-acre estate features a 40-room, Queen Anne-style mansion built in 1887 with over nine formal gardens. The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places and opened to the public in 1973.

From afar, the historic home appeared ominous with its dark wood and stone exterior details. I followed a gravel path from the visitor’s parking lot, up the sloping green lawn, directly to the mansion entrance. Up close, the house was pleasant, with an airy wrap-around veranda that overlooked the surrounding gardens. The mansion interior was closed to visitors, so I toured the grounds. Entering each themed garden felt like stepping through a portal to a different era and place in the world. It was a very unique experience.

First, I toured the Rock Garden. The mossy stones and wildflower-lined paths encompassed by tall pine trees looked like a scene from a fantasy movie. I passed beneath a stone bridge and followed a rock wall blossoming with moss and tiny white flowers to go back toward the mansion and the Blue and White Garden. The small, square plot was hidden behind stone walls, accessible only through an ivy-covered archway. Inside, beds of blue and white blossoms sprung to life in front of a marble-columned structure that housed a classical statue of a woman in a draped robe. I admired the small, sunny spot for a while before heading to the Italian Garden. Though the flower beds hadn’t bloomed yet, the column-lined stone pathways, statues and fountains made an elaborate and beautiful landscape. I cut through the back of the garden and down a wooded trail to the serene Japanese Garden near the park entrance. A series of short bridges weaved beneath a traditional Torii gate and over a narrow river leading to the Kyoto-style tea house at the garden center. To the right of the tea house, a bronze Buddha statue watched over the quiet landscape.

Japanese garden

I looped back to the park entrance to check out the orchid show. Inside the greenhouses was an explosion of vibrant colors and patterns from the blossoming plants. The show expanded through three different greenhouses and ended in a spectacular arrangement of all different sizes and colors of orchids.

Though the weekend show is over, the park will make an excellent day trip once it reopens for the summer in May.


Libby Cook is an intern at Life in the Finger Lakes during the Spring 2021 semester. As a senior writing major at Ithaca College, Libby is very excited to be spending her final semester of school exploring and writing about the Finger Lakes Region. Originally from Maine, Libby loves to spend her free time at home hiking and relaxing at the lake with friends. Libby is always looking for interesting towns, trails, restaurants and other attractions to visit around the Finger Lakes during the school year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *