Too Blooming Early- The 2012 National Cherry Blossom Festival In Washington D.C.


by: Marlene email

Cherry Blossom Pink

As it happily turned out,  instead of being at home on the Eastern Shore of Virginia  at 4 pm on March 17th, thinking about  getting ready for an excellent St. Paddy Day dinner at Kelly’s Gingernut Pub  in Cape Charles,  I was instead walking through  the magnificent grounds of the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.,  surrounded by  incredible beautiful blooming cherry trees.   A  postponement of a visit by a client left me with a few unscheduled days available and it took us all of  30 seconds to decide what to do with them.  Ever since our youthful days lived  in the Washington metro area,  about a thousand years ago,  my husband and I have always loved Spring there and the amazing cherry blossoms.   Earlier in the week I had  read  an article in  The Washington Post  which indicated that the record breaking warm weather this year  ( hello climate change)  was forcing the blossoms to open  very early,  almost 2 weeks earlier than usual.   Peak bloom, where  at least 70% of  the blossoms would be open, was forecast for March 20 - 24th.   So on Friday afternoon it was a quick call for a hotel reservation,  a dust-off of some sturdy walking shoes, a quick pack-pack and we were ready to set off early on Saturday morning.  Somehow, as often happens,  but I’m never sure how,  although dog feeding, watering and walking has something to do with it,  the planned  early  departure turned into a late 10:30 departure.   But finally we were on the road,  off  to the 2012 National Cherry Blossom Festival !    It was a gorgeous day,  a perfect day for a drive, the  ride  over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge offered sparkling blue waters and views of boaters out enjoying the warm and breezy day.   Fortunately, D.C.   is only a 4 1/2 hour drive from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, made somewhat longer but definitely more fun with a  lunch stop  at the famous Cheese Shop at Merchant’s Square in Williamsburg, VA  for a  luscious sandwich of  Virginia country ham and cheddar, piled high on a French baguette, slathered with their marvelous  house dressing,  accompanied by a glass of Williamsburg Winery’s  Chardonnay.

The Jefferson Monument- Never More Beautiful Than At Cherry Blossom Time

A word about the history of these beautiful cherry trees planted so profusely around the Tidal Basin and the National Mall.  According to Ann McClellan in her excellent book about the Festival,   ” The Cherry Blossom Festival Sakura Celebration“,  in 1909,  First Lady Nellie Taft, who had visited Japan and seen the cherry trees blossom there,  became interested in the new parks beautification  plan underway in  D.C.   Mrs. Taft  made known to the Superintendent of Public  Buildings her interest in seeing Japanese flowering cherry trees planted along the roads from the Tidal Basin to the  Park boundaries to create  continuous lines of  gorgeous spring color.  As her interest in the trees became known publicly, as a gesture of  friendship in 1909,  the city of  Tokyo, the capital of Japan, offered to send a gift of 2000 cherry trees to her sister city, the capital of the United States, Washington DC.  However, a friend of Mrs. Taft  assigned to travel to Japan to help select the trees  ignored the advice of  Fairchild  Nursery ( the nursery was to oversee the transportation of the trees to D.C.  from the port in Seattle where they were to  arrive) to select very young, small trees. Instead, hoping to get impressive blossoms very quickly, she instead selected mature trees whose roots and limbs had to be severely pruned.  This error made  it unlikely that the trees would survive once planted.  On top of all  that, once the trees had arrived in Washington D.C.,  the U.S. Dept.  of  Agriculture discovered that many of these  mature trees had infections and infestations and it was decided unfortunately necessary to burn them all, creating a diplomatic flurry of apologies and letters.

Peeking Through The Cherry Trees At The Washington Monument

But the city of Tokyo still very much wanted to fulfill its promise to gift these trees and  the Imperial Horticultural Experiment Station was selected to create a committee of experts to oversee  the propagation of 3000 young cherry trees.  By early 1912 these  trees were ready for shipment to Washington, arriving in March.  At a special ceremony at the  Tidal Basin in March 1912,  the Mrs. Taft  is said to have  planted the very first tree herself.   The rest. as they say, is history.   Word of the beauty of the blossoming trees quickly became known, bringing artists, photographers and thousands of  ordinary citizens to Washington to photograph, paint and generally celebrate the beautiful blooms, with the first  official  “Cherry Blossom Festival”  celebration taking place in 1935.  The 2012 Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the 100th anniversary of the planting of the trees in March, 1912  and in the horticultural world  this is an especially exciting year,  the Cherry Blossom Centennial.

A Microcosm Of The World’s People Celebrating The Beautiful World Of Cherry Blossoms

As we gaily drove  over the Memorial Bridge,  it was clear that the early bloom  prognosticators were  right,  the trees were absolutely glorious,  blossoms waving in the  breeze, petals  floating gently to the ground like pink-tinted pixie dust, their sweet scent  perfuming the air.   People were everywhere,  enjoying this once yearly treat, hand-in-hand, parents, youngsters, oldsters, tweensters, toddlers, lovers, photographers,  walking,  jogging, snapping photos with cameras, iPhones, Droids,  you name it,  sitting on the grass,  laying on blankets,  under the shade of these magnificant trees or in the golden sunlight between them. Spring was in the air, temps were in the mid-70′s  and everyone was there to celebrate this truly glorious Spring  day,  tourists and residents, citizens and  foreign visitors,  folks with roots from all across the globe,  chattering happily in a multitude of languages.    English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian, German, Italian, you name it,   enthusiastic conversations wafted through the air,  everyone  basking in a beautiful dream world of  millions of gorgeous pink blossoms,  a world first envisioned by Nellie Taft  over one hundred years ago,  a vision of  a cultural coming together that  I imagine the Coca Cola folks could have had in mind in their “Real Thing”  ad  from the early 1970′s.

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

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