The months of April, May, and June in Boston—eventually, with a side of chilly air—bring a long-awaited and sweet-smelling reward to residents and visitors: a profusion of frilly blooms, in hues of lavender, purple and pink.
Cherry, Lilac, Rose, Azalea, and Rhododendron Blossoms
You’ll find the best cherry, lilac, rose, azalea, and rhododendron blossoms at the Arnold Arboretum, tucked away in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. The living museum and research center for Harvard University is free of charge for all visitors. Frederick Law Olmsted, who created Boston’s Emerald Necklace of parks, designed the Arboretum with Charles Sprague Sargent, its first director.
The haven for horticulture isn’t the only place in the city to enjoy blooms, but it’s the best. Not only does it pack the most blooms into the least space, but also staff educate visitors of every age about plants.
If you’re content to look at the blooms, use this basic map. It’s easy to read the labels of the major groups of trees and plants in the 281-acre Arboretum. Most of the showiest beauties are concentrated in one area.
Learn More with the Explorer App
If you seek in-depth knowledge about trees, shrubs, and flowers, we recommend using the Arboretum’s app to do research or take a variety of self-guided tours.
You can consult it on your phone as you walk around, or use it to do research before you go. You may decide to stay home and learn virtually. Regardless of the method you choose, you’ll find sweet-smelling cherry trees, lilacs, roses, azaleas and rhododendron in bloom.
When to See Blooms—A Bloom Timeline
Here’s when you can see blooms—give or take two weeks for changeable New England weather.
- Cherry trees—late April
- Lilacs—early May
- Azaleas and rhododendron—mid-May
- Roses—late May to mid-June
Blooming Cherry Trees at the Arnold Arboretum
When I hear the words “cherry tree” I think of ripe, juicy cherries. But most of the trees that delight us in spring, although related to the fruit-bearing varieties, are bred for their beautiful blossoms. They begin to open in late April.
Enter the Forest Hills Gate to see the Arboretum’s cherry trees, located along Forest Hills Road on the eastern end of the Bradley Rosaceous Collection. The wide open space has three ponds, grassy lawns, paths, and big beds of plants. The garden is named in honor of Eleanor Cabot Bradley (1893-1990), a major donor.
If you need a peaceful spot to rest, head for the granite Bradley Bench that overlooks the western end of the Collection, inscribed to “Eleanor Cabot Bradley, wise and generous counselor.” (You can also visit her estate, a Trustees of Reservations property.)
On the Explorer app, choose “Featured Tours,” “Current Plant Highlights,” and tap the leaf icons to see photos and descriptions of the blooms. Most of the cherries in the Arboretum are native to Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan.
As you walk along Forest Hills Road toward Bussey Hill, you’ll see the “Cherry Promenade,” a row of cherries. They are designed in such a way that you can walk around and under them.
- Weeping cherry trees
- The hot-pink double blossom Kwanzan (from Japan)
- Black Cherry trees with tiny white-pink flowers (native; this variety fruits)
- Sand Cherry, with small white blossoms close to the ground, toward the entrance to the Bradley Rosaceous Collection.
The second spot you can find cherries is on the west side of Peters Hill. Check “Current Plant Highlights” on the Explorer app for more information.
Bussey Hill, located closest to the Forest Hills Gate, is bordered by Bussey Hill Road. Along that road, for five weeks each spring beginning in early May, the heady scent of blooming lilacs will draw you. The nearly 401 non-native shrubs are conveniently located all along the hill. Among them are 180 different kinds of lilacs.
Click on “Featured Tours” on the top navigation. Check off “Lilac Tour” about halfway down the list. On the left, a map of the lilacs will appear. Tap the purple and white leaf icons as you make your way up the hill. Each tap will reveal a photo of the lilac in that spot, and give helpful information about the flower, including its origins. Users can browse through multiple photos.
Eighty-three percent of the plants in the five-acre Bradley Rosaceous Collection are members of the rose family, with more than 50 species represented. You’ll find them abloom in late May to mid-June. Most bloom just once per year.
There’s a “Rose Roundabout” in the large open area at the north end of the garden known as “The Gathering.” You’ll find numerous hybrid roses there, notable for their rich colors and fragrance. Species and cultivar roses grace the beds and arbor of the Roundabout.
Seven types of ornamental shrubs are found in the Azalea Border, which bursts into bloom in mid-May. Designed in 1946, it’s located along Meadow Road, closest to the Arborway Gate. You’ll find, among others, the bright lavender-pink flowers of the Korean Rhododendron, usually the first to bloom.
The Arboretum’s group of hybrid and broadleaf evergreen rhododendron are located just inside the South Street Gate along Valley Road. Link to the tour “Rhododendron Dell” on the Explorer app to learn more. There are 175 plants representing 88 varieties. A highlight of the group is R. ‘Duke of York’. At 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide, it’s one of the tallest in the Arboretum. Beginning in mid-May, it produces an abundance of deep pink flowers.