Celebrating the cherry blossom – lessons from a Japanese tree festival
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
From A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of trees, the cherry now By A. E. Housman
Without a doubt you know spring has really arrived when trees burst forth with the wedding cake fanfare of delicate, ephemeral blossoms. Frothy and exuberant, yet fleeting, the rain of tissue paper petals has a bittersweet frailness that touches the heart.
But how many times has this passed you by? Rushing about in a flurry of seemingly important things to do, it’s easy to miss not only spring, but summer, autumn and winter too.
Open up to nature’s loveliness, it can be breathtaking. Even the humble dust mote dancing and glinting in the sunshine can be a glorious paean to life. There is a delight to be found in noticing this passing beauty of the moment. Nature is full of these reminders and paying attention is so rewarding.
A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms
– Basho Matsuo
The Japanese take enjoyment of spring and nature and elevate it to an art. Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) the country’s festival honouring these trees is a big deal. Family and friends celebrate it by picnicking and co-workers hold long rowdy parties under the blossoms. Flowers and nature in general, are particularly symbolic throughout Japanese culture; and the cherry blossom represents both new beginnings and the fragility of life.
Though the blossoms are short lived they hold the promise of the fruits to come, the unfurling fresh new leaves and the solace of summer. They are life giving and life affirming, representing a time of renewal. Spending time in nature’s lovliness helps improve our physical and mental health, but there’s more, we can go deeper still.
The heady blooms shout out the unstoppable exuberant joy of life while proclaiming the immanence of death. The headlong sensuous thrill of a first love laced with the knowledge of inevitable endings. In modern times this is not something most of us want to face or examine. But having an awareness of the transience of life can be a blessing, keep things in perspective and highlight what is truly important to each of us.
Acknowledging and understanding that our lives too are short unveils the wonderful potential and blossom like beauty in us. We too are blossoms. This recognition usually passes us by. It can lead us to a fuller appreciation of what we have right now and our shared humanity. Why do we fail to live life to the fullest, why don’t we spend time with our loved ones, and why do we not take the time to simply pay attention to the living, breathing world around us?
The laughing blossoms remind us to pay attention, to revel in life, its passion and joys. They point us in the direction of how to live our lives with more grace and meaning in the here and now.
How many, many things
They call to mind
– Basho Matsuo
What better thing to celebrate than the preciousness of life itself? Witnessing the turning wheel of the seasons and the miracle of spring is a great way to get in touch with that. The blossoms are starting out now, so why not take a leaf out of the Japanese book and take the opportunity to pause a moment and savour nature as it blooms forth?
Millions of tourists throng to Japan every year to witness this spectacle. But you can experience your very own frothiest blossomiest blossoms right here in the UK. Why not celebrate the ending of the dark winter days and the resurgence of life by seeking out some local tree blossom hot spots. Take a walk on the wild side or have a picnic amongst snowy petals. Let the delicate petals touch your heart. What are you waiting for, feed your inner poet and bask in nowness and those rays of springtime joy.
cherry blossom rain
sound of a love song passes
with the traffic
– Dawn Apanius
Many urban streets in the UK are lined with fruit trees which will be flowering, so you needn’t go far to experience their delights, just wander around and see what’s on your door step. There are often blossoming trees in urban parks too. With London particularly blessed with some lovely spots, see below for places to visit. For those willing to go further afield the places below have large collections of fruit trees to get the full experience. Make the most of this spring now, go celebrate our blossoms!
Some places to celebrate blossoms:
Alnwick Garden in Northumberland boasts an orchard of 350 of the great white cherry P. ‘Tai-Haku’, underplanted with pink ‘Mistress’ tulips and Allium ‘Purple Splendour’.
Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire holds the national collection of Japanese village cherries (aka the Sato-Zakura group). Open daily.
Brogdale Farm in Kent is a living gene bank for fruit trees, and holds 350 flowering cherry varieties. Join their hanami festival on 21st April (NB: changed from 14th of April) or visit for a hanami picnic on various dates in April.
Keele University in Staffordshire holds national collection status for the more than 240 varieties of ornamental cherry that dot the campus. Download a map and guide from the university’s website before visiting.
Kew Gardens in London has a cherry walk planted with a range of cultivars including the double pink ‘Kanzan’ and the single white-flowered ‘Taki-nioi’. Join one of its Heralds of spring walking tours, starting daily at midday until 4th May, to see the best seasonal blossoms, including cherries.
London Parks Cherry Blossom Top Five blog gives details of the best places to look for cherry blossoms in London parks.
The Savill and Valley Gardens, part of Windsor Great Park in Surrey, hold an extensive collection of Japanese cherries, including the national collection of Fuji cherries.
Give yourself to spring’s voluptuous deliciousness, live fully like the gorgeous blossoms giving it their all. As the seasons change make a pilgrimage to nature’s gifts of bluebell woods, heather hills and wild flower meadows. Breathe it in, look up and enjoy the preciousness of your life.