2011 National Cherry Blossom Festival

2011 National Cherry Blossom Festival

March 30, 2011
Photo by: Adam Kuban

This past weekend I went for a getaway (or mini-break, as Bridget Jones would say) with my husband to Washington, D.C., and I had a chance to see all the flowering trees that are still in bud form in New York in full and glorious bloom in D.C., including the many blossoming cherry trees that kindly cooperated with the opening weekend of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

How to force branches

Photo by Claire Lui

My favorite spring flowers are magnolias and Washington, D.C. had magnolias all over town, blooming in the front yards of houses, hotels, and even in the gardens of the White House, which has 44 trees planted by Presidents and First Ladies on its grounds, including two Southern magnolia trees planted by President Andrew Jackson and saucer magnolias planted by President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Nancy Reagan.

star magnolia
Photo by Claire Lui

Star magnolias, or Magnolia stellata, were also blooming everywhere in the capital, with their fluttering white petals looking like beautiful stars covering the branches.

Ordering magnolias

Photo by Claire Lui

The White House's forsythia was also in full bloom, with big swaths of gold growing around the White House grounds. I also got a peek at First Lady Michelle Obama's vegetable garden, which has a bee hive next to it:

white house garden


cherry blossom bud
Photo by Claire Lui

Of course, the big flower story in Washington, D.C., this weekend was the start of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which celebrates the gift of cherry trees from Tokyo to Washington, D.C.

Viewing cherry blossoms is known in Japanese as 'hanami,' and the event is celebrated with picnics and sake drinking underneath the cherry trees. The cherry blossoms are celebrated for their transient beauty and serve as reminder of the ephremeral quality of human life itself—a philosophy that has extra resonance this year, due to the recent tsunami and its effects in Japan.

The trees in Washington, D.C. were a gift from Tokyo in 1912, when Japan sent 3,020 trees to be planted in the capital, with 12 different varieties represented, including 1,800 trees of the 'Somei-Yoshino' variety, many of which were planted around the city's Tidal Basin.

In 1965, the Japanese government donated another 3,800 Yoshino cherry trees to the city. First Lady Lady Bird Johnson and the wife of the then-Japanese Ambassador, Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, reenacted the 1912 planting ceremony.

In recent years, new trees propagated from the original surviving trees from the 1912 donation have been planted as replacement trees to continue the genetic heritage of the grove.

tidal basin
Photo by Claire Lui

I have always enjoyed attending the cherry blossom festival in Brooklyn, New York, but this was the first time I had attended the National Cherry Blossom Festival and the juxtaposition of the trees against the Tidal Basin is a picturesque sight. The masses of tourists, including myself, did make it a little difficult for anyone to quietly contemplate the beauty of the cherry blossoms themselves, but Japan's hanami festivals are also famous for being packed and loud.

If you're interested in attending a cherry blossom festival near you, I have iisted the approximate dates and linked to the sites of cherry blossom festivals around the country. The festivals in the South are already over, but they are just beginning in the rest of the country. Many festivals host cultural events along with the blossom viewing, as well as ways to donate to the victims of the tsunami in Japan.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festivals in the U.S. and Canada

March 26 to April 10, Washington, D.C.
National Cherry Blossom Festival

March 26 to April 22, Vancouver
Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival

March 4 to April 15, Philadelphia
Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia

April 1 to April 3, Seattle
Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival & Japanese Cultural Festival

April 2 to May 1, Brooklyn, New York
Hanami at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

April 3, Portland, Oregon
Sakura Sunday, First Annual Cherry Blossom Festival

April 9 to April 17, Newark, New Jersey
Cherry Blossom Festival, Branch Brook Park Alliance

April 9 to 10 and April 16 to 17, San Francisco
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival

April 10, New Haven, Connecticut
38th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival, Historic Wooster Square Association

April 16 and 18, Monterey Park, California
14th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival

September date TBA, Pasadena, California
2011 Cherry Blossom Festival of Southern California