Capital of Spring

While Japan springs to mind when one thinks of cherry blossoms and one can never sever the association between tulips and The Netherlands, there is a much closer to home destination that holds its own as an international flower viewing destination…

Washington D.C., whose wintery landscapes transform into a sea of pink and white blossoms every year, boasts a forest of more than 3 000 cherry trees and is home to America’s National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Japanese flower viewing, or “hanami” where “hana” means flower and “mi” means to see, dates back 1 200 years in Japan. The tradition is now 100 years old in Washington. Back in 1910 Japan sent across a shipment of 2 000 cherry trees as a gift to America’s capital to solidify relations between the two countries. However, when the trees arrived, it was found that many were diseased and had to be burnt. Graciously, the Japanese then sent across another larger shipment of over 3 000 trees. These were then planted in 1912 across Washington D.C. and have famously burst into bloom every spring since. First lady Helen Herron Taft planted the very first tree in Washington’s West Pontomac Park and in March 2012 First Lady Michelle Obama planted another cherry tree to mark the blossom’s centennial bloom.

The majority of the blossoms can be viewed right in the center of Washington D.C., flanking the city’s famous sites and making it easy to combine flower viewing with sightseeing. Washington D.C’s West and East Potomac Park, the Tidal basin (between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel) and the National Mall (whose landscaped gardens stretch from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial) are the most popular sites to view the blossoms.

If you want to get away from the crowds the 446 acre US National Arboretum, Stanton Park in Capital Hill and the 200 acre Anacostia Park next to the Anacostia River all boast a gorgeous lineup of cherry blossoms too.

While viewing the blossoms by car is not recommended, due to limited parking spaces in the city, DC’s Metrorail, the Metrobus and the DC Circular all offer convenient options to reach the sites by public transport. Cycling is another great way to experience the blossoms and, if you haven’t brought along your own bike, there are Capital Bikeshare docking stations near the Jefferson Memorial and on the corner of Jefferson Drive and 14th Street NW, both of which are a short ride from the blossoms.

It’s also not just about flower viewing – the Cherry blossom Festival stretches across three weeks and is packed with cultural and family attractions such as Art in Bloom, kite flying, a celebration show and a Petal Porch Parade.

If you’ve had your fill of cherry blossoms – Washington is highly underrated as a tulip viewing destination. The Floral Library, or the Tulip Library, was established in 1969 as part of Lady Bird Johnson’s Capital Beautification Project. The “library” is located on the north side of the Tidal Basin between the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. It has 93 flower beds featuring either tulips or annuals. The flowers require up to 10 000 bulbs to be planted by hand each year and famously feature nearly 100 varieties of tulips.

Spring is also a reasonable time of year to visit Washington D.C. as many hotels in the area offer packages and discounts at this time of year together with special extras to lure in guests, such as bloom-inspired meals  and cocktails.

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