Cherry blossom time in Washington has been special ever since 1912 when Japan’s Mayor of Tokyo gifted 3,000 cherry trees to the United States as a symbol of friendship between the two countries. This year’s peak bloom is scheduled from March 30th to April 3rd. It seems the weather forecasters have honed their flower prediction skills (unlike their snow record), and have called it right five of nine times since 2012.
Cherry trees are beloved for their beauty and fragility. Blossoms will only hold for a week or two and then they are blown away like snow. We love the cherry blossoms because of their delicacy and because they brightly signal the arrival of spring. This year’s celebrations and festival, of course, will be somewhat muted and different than what we’re used to, due to the coronavirus virus. Just like the fences around the Capitol complex, the National Park Service will be limiting access to the tidal basin. They encourage folks to experience the blossoms through their Cherry Blossom webcam cam (www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/cherry-blossom-cam.htm).
But cherry blossom lovers do not need to panic, as there is a silver lining to the festival disruptions. More cherry blossom activities are being planned for DC neighborhoods, including six Capitol Hill restaurants offering “Cherry Picks” that feature spring themed items on their menus. Other businesses will be decorated with lighting and decals to celebrate, according to the Capitol Hill BID. These efforts are part of the citywide City in Bloom campaign. Champs, Eastern Market Main Street, Labyrinth Games and Puzzles, Michael Anthony Salon, The DC Dentist, Boxcar Tavern, and Mr. Henry’s will all be participating.
The history Japanese flower viewing
Fortunately for us, hanami or Japanese flower viewing, a 16th century Japanese tradition, has endured and we can learn about the history and culture through art, music, and poetry. Frank Feletens, Assistant Curator of Japanese Art at the Freer Galley of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, part of the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, has a scholar’s view of the ancient tradition. Frank says it began when Japan finally came out of its war period, and people were happy to be able to be out enjoying nature in springtime.
“The difference between how Japanese enjoy cherry blossoms and how we do in DC,” says Frank, “is we tend to stroll around the trees, where as in Japan you would grab a blue tarp and find a nice tree to settle under with friends. There is a lot of food and drink, as well.” He notes the museum has put up an interactive docent tour to help people learn about the cherry blossoms in the museum’s art collections. There are also a number of children’s programs planned throughout the festival time. You can even download a specially designed cherry-blossom art background for your next zoom call. https://asia.si.edu/national-cherry-blossom-festival/ . When asked where his favorite cherry trees are in DC, he said for this year they are only virtual.
Finding trees on Capitol Hill
One of the reasons, DC has become the country’s cherry blossom mecca, is because we share a very similar climate and growing conditions with Japan. In
fact, the US National Arboretum has long been involved in research and work to preserve the genetics and germplasm of many plants and trees in Japan to ensure the future of these plants should they become endangered in their own habitats. The work with the Tidal Basin cherry trees is an excellent example of this. As far back as 1952, when the original tree grove, the parent stock of the DC trees, fell into decline, the US shipped bud wood to Japan to restore the grove. Many similar exchanges have occurred since then to help ensure our trees remain healthy and part of the Washington landscape.
Cherry trees are wonderful urban trees to plant and can be found throughout the Hill in our parks, like Stanton and Lincoln Parks, and along many of our streets and yards. The US National Arboretum also has a good number of cherry trees, and a cell phone tour so you can learn about the trees. Casey Trees, a DC nonprofit committed to restoring, enhancing and protecting the tree canopy of the nation’s capital, has produced a tremendous interactive web map that not only lets you find all these trees, but identifies the ten or more varieties of the cherry trees. It also has an index for identifying and finding other trees. Put in the address you want to check out, and a pink-shaded circle appears where the tree is located. A quick look at the map showed trees exist on a number of the Hill’s. residential streets. https://caseytrees.org/2019/03/heres-our-updated-d-c-cherry-blossom-map/
If you are thinking about planting a flowering cherry tree, it is important to consider the tree’s location. It will need a sunny spot, good air circulation and should be placed in deep, well-drained soil. The average price for a tree is between $125 and $200. The good news is that the trees are fast growing and start blooming in the first year and will be in full bloom by the fifth year. Trees tend to last 15-20 years, with the Yoshino cherries living several decades. The National Park Service website has an excellent list of the different types of trees with a picture of the bloom, and description of the tree. www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/
National Cherry Blossom Festival
The festival is three to four weeks long, and, in non-COVID times, the festival brings up to 700,000 visitors to the city, one of the biggest tourist attractions each year. This year’s festival organizers are encouraging city residents to paint the city pink with a Petal Porch Parade on Saturday, April 10th. Artists will decorate cars that will drive through neighborhoods that produce the largest number of decorated porches, yards, and windows.
The event was inspired by similar ones in Portland Oregon last summer and, more recently, Yardi Gras in New Orleans. To be included in the parade route, residents needed to register by March 15th. The website has a number of clever tutorials for making cherry blossom petals using everything from egg cartons to plastic shopping bags. These would be fun craft projects even if you have missed the porch deadline.
There are so many ways to participate this year whether you are staying at home and checking things virtually, or stepping out. Bookmark the National Cherry Blossom website https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/ so you can easily check what is going on and don’t miss out. Take a fun afternoon and hunt cherry trees on the Hill using Casey Trees interactive map and end up having a Cherry Moon specialty drink at Mr. Henry’s or one of the many restaurants on the Hill. In short, 2021 is the time to create your own hanami.
Rindy O’Brien cannot imagine any spring without the Cherry trees but especially this year as we start to move past COVID. Contact: [email protected]