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.
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.
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.
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)
Tags: 2012 National Cherry Blossom Festival Washington DC, cherry blossoms in Washington DC, Cherry tree gift from Japan, Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, Eastern Shore of Virginia, Tidal Basin Washington Dc, Washington Monument, week-end trips from Eastern Shore Virginia, Wiaaliamsburg Va