Mailing ListForum
City Places for City People
Blooming Beauty in the Nation's Capital

by Amy McNeal

As the leaden skies of winter give way to bright blue, the signs of spring return to the Nation's Capital. Giant white buses return to block up the streets around the Smithsonian. Flocks of that notorious DC species, the tourist, return from their winter migration to crowd around the monuments with their endlessly flashing cameras. The politicians wake up from their winter slumber to discover a new campaign season is upon them, and bluster around town looking for photo ops. The pulse of life in Washington quickens. In contrast, around the Tidal Basin, the cherry blossoms emerge to create a scene of peace and beauty in the heart of downtown DC.

2011 marks the 99th annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. Tourists from around the country, and around the world, walk among the blooms at the Tidal Basin and marvel at the beauty of these venerable trees. The first trees were planted in 1912 as a gift to the city of Washington, DC from the Mayor of Tokyo, Japan. Over a million people visit the Tidal Basin every spring during their brief blossoming time to experience the beauty of the trees.

The 3,750 trees are examples of several varieties of Japanese Blooming Cherry. The blossoms range in color from white to soft pink, and form a beautifully mottled backdrop to the monuments of the Tidal Basin. The trees are planted around the entire area, in West Potomac Park, Hains Point, and the Washington Monument grounds. Visitors to DC will see the blossoms when touring the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial and the soon to be completed MLK Memorial.

The blooming season is generally from mid-March to mid-April. The mean date of bloom is April 4th. Peak bloom can occur before or after that date, depending on local weather conditions. The trees bloom for approximately 14 days. Wind, rain and snow can lessen the bloom time.

In addition to the beauty of the trees, cherry blossom time in DC is an active time of events and celebrations. The two week Cherry Blossom festival highlights Japanese culture and kicks off the warm weather months. The festival begins with Family Day and opening ceremonies on the last Saturday of March. The annual Kite Festival is usually held on that weekend. On the second Saturday, the festival continues with celebrations at the Southwest Waterfront including concerts and food, as well as the Petal Walk. The festival concludes with the annual Cherry Blossom Festival Parade and the Sakura Matsuri, a street festival celebrating Japanese culture. Other events, like an anime marathon and Japanese-themed displays at the Smithsonian, are also held during the festival. Throughout the 2 week period, Japanese food and festival souvenirs are available at the Tidal Basin.

This is the most beautiful time of the year in Washington. The blooming trees, with their gnarled, arched branches, gently reach toward the Tidal Basin. It's almost impossible to hurry under thems. The soft puffs of blossom create a scene of otherworldly peace, far removed from the everyday grind and grime of the Nation's Capital. The scene gains even greater beauty as the blossoms begin to fall in a gentle rain of white and pink. A walk under the cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin is a perfect way to experience the feeling of renewal that comes with spring.

Text by Amy McNeal; photo by Katherine Boeder