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Green Acre #234: Cherries on Top

Lincoln Park, in DC’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, bursts into blossom in spring. It is less heralded, and therefore less crowded, than the Tidal Basin area, site of DC’s cherry-blossom motherlode. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

WELL, THANKS to the plague, DC’s Cherry Blossom Festival is pfft! again this year.

Oh, you can watch the opening ceremony on TV. Billed as a tribute to our friendship with Japan and an artistic celebration with a star-studded cast, it will allow you to tilt back the Barcalounger, open a container of Cherry Garcia from Ben & Jerry’s and chill. You’re also invited to decorate your front porch and put on pink hats and ties and order carryout—it’s a little bit more elaborate than that, but you get the picture. 

Even visiting the cherries at the Tidal Basin is still up in the air—those stranger bodies, you know, or rather, don’t know.  (Here’s an idea that has nothing to do with cherry blossoms! Rename the body of water the Fanne Foxe Memorial Tidal Basin—there are few enough memorials to women in this city. That would be . . . frisky.)

In the event that the Basin is again off limits, there are other spots around DC with exceptional displays of cherry trees. The city has more than 3,700 of the trees, making it almost impossible not to find a fine view somewhere. And not just the delicate strum of the Yoshinos that fringe the Basin and peak on April 1st: There are varieties that will begin blooming next week and culminate mid-month with the brass-band magnificence of the Kwanzans.  

Cherry Hill is an area of Dumbarton Oaks Park, in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood, belonging to the Harvard-owned research library and museum and situated between its formal gardens and the natural landscape that takes over as you reach the lower levels of the estate property. / Photo from Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Just a flurry from the Tidal Basin is East Potomac Park, where a wide variety of cherries mingles with gorgeous willows dripping their branches into the Potomac River. A great place to picnic—just beware the goose droppings, which are everywhere. It’s a popular spot, so parking can be a challenge. Grab a bike and go. 

Closed much of last year, the grounds of the National Arboretum are once again open to the public every day from 8am to 5pm. The 400-acre park has more than a thousand trees and more than 30 varieties of cherry, which begin blooming about now and continue through mid-April, when they meet up with the extraordinary display of azaleas, thousands of them climbing a hillside in clouds of surreal color.

The trees of Cherry Hill, a fine display on the fringe of the wanderland* that is the 16-acre garden at Georgetown’s Dumbarton Oaks,  may or may not be reopened in time to catch the blossoms—please may it reopen before the spring bulbs fade—check the website for updates. If Dumbarton Oaks is still closed at bloom time you can also enjoy the blossoms in the adjacent Montrose Park, which also has a lovely children’s play area, so if you’re toting kids you might catch a few moments to experience some serenity.

Famed for its waterlilies, so summer-bountiful, the Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens has a spring offering: a flush of cherry trees—and fine bird-watching along the boardwalk, with a notable absence of bugs. Open daily from 8am to 4pm. 

Possibly the most peaceful viewing is at St. Anselm’s Abbey, where you can wander about and scarcely encounter a soul besides the robed Benedictine monks quietly tending the buildings and grounds. The fine display of cherry trees kicks off a spring and summer of blossom, glorious displays that include (you should pardon the expression) massed displays of spring bulbs and their justly famed beds of roses. It is located at 4501 South Dakota Avenue NE, and while there is an absurd number of websites for the abbey and the school, none of them has information about the gardens.

A cemetery isn’t the first place you think of to visit cherry trees in bloom, but Congressional Cemetery’s K9 Corps (dog owners who pay an annual fee to let their dogs off-leash on the grounds) makes it a rather festive spot. Not to mention gorgeous at cherry-blossom time.

The neighborhood of Capitol Hill has scattered pockets and parks filled with pink and white bloomers, but primo viewing is Lincoln Park, which is absolutely breathtaking. A happy place where toddlers run with the labradoodles and cockapoos, and bikini-clad locals sprawl under blossom-laden trees. This is the park with the controversial statue of Lincoln and a freed slave kneeling at his feet at one end—which is offset in some minds (like mine) by the grand statue of African American educator Mary McLeod Bethune.

Possibly the last place one would think of for cherry-blossom viewing is historic Congressional Cemetery, which one would think would vie with St. Anselm’s for peace and introspection. One would be wrong. The beautifully kempt grounds, and cherry-tree-lined paths,  are kept so in part by the donations of dog walkers, who are on a waiting list for the privilege of letting Fido loose among the mausoleums and headstones, possibly making it the most popular dog park in the city.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” is happy to share fleurs that are not hers, except in the most general sense.

*Wanderland is not a word, but certainly should be. 



One thought on “Green Acre #234: Cherries on Top

  1. Maggie Hall says:

    # That’s it….DC now has a new name for the Tidal Basin. Love the thought of saying: “let’s go for a walk round FF…” then explaining why it’s called that!
    # Wanderland just has to go into the dictionary.
    # The DC Council should use this article in its PR for the Cherry Blossom Festival.

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