Washington, D.C., is a city of flowers. The most famous blooms, the cherry blossoms, are expected to peak at the end of March, lacing the Tidal Basin surrounding the Jefferson Memorial with a ribbon of pink. Enjoy the sight; but as locals know, take advantage of the city’s less crowded gardens.
In 2012 the District marks the 100th anniversary of the gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Tokyo with a parade, street fair, fashion show and other special events, many of which focus on Japanese culture.
Festival highlights include the March 31 Kite Festival, where kids can fashion kites as well as applaud trick kites and root for favorites in a showdown of battling high-flyers.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival Fireworks Show lights up the sky at the Southwest Waterfront, April 7; floats and marching bands roll along Constitution Avenue at the annual parade; and martial arts, traditional and popular Japanese music, food and crafts reign at the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival, April 14, at 12th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. The festival rates as one of the largest Japanese cultural festivals in the U.S.
For additional blossoms and fewer crowds, head to the U.S. National Arboretum. The off-the-beaten path facility, just 2.2 miles from the Capitol, blooms with 446 acres of gardens and greenery. Although you won’t be alone, the crowds are less intense than at the Tidal Basin, creating a better viewing experience. In addition, you can drive or bike (bring your own) along the arboretum’s nine miles of road. From mid-April through mid-October a guided tram tour of several gardens is available.
Spring through fall, the facility’s grounds are especially beautiful. In March hundreds of daffodils, pussy willows and other blooms grace the garden. Also in March and April a hillside bursts into color with more than 10,000 azaleas. For this season, at least, the beautiful display remains. But in the future the azaleas may fall victim to the recession. In summer, the pond near the administration fills with lilies.
Another spectacular and less-visited garden is at Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens. An urban oasis, Hillwood’s 12 acres of formal gardens are surrounded by 13 acres of woodlands that back up to Rock Creek Park. On a stroll, it’s easy to forget that you are in the city.
Landscaped to the tastes of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heir to the Post cereal fortune, the gardens are as carefully arranged as the rooms in her mansion, a showcase for Russian decorative arts and 18th century French furnishings.
Post’s gardens are prettiest in spring and fall, seasons when she was most likely to be in residence. After all that’s when D.C.’s weather is the best.
Hillwood has cherry trees, primarily in the Japanese-style garden, a tranquil setting of winding paths, bridges, boulders, ponds and waterfalls.
In March, enter Hillwood’s greenhouse and the scent and sight of 2,000 orchids greet you. In April and May 4,000 azaleas bloom as do hundreds of rhododendrons, magnolias and crabapples, creating lush pink, red and white landscape laced with tulips and daffodils.
Additional highlights of Hillwood’s grounds include the 18th century style French parterre decorated with low, scrolled boxwood and fountains and edged by high English ivy walls. In the rose garden, red and pink blossoms cascade from the pergola with more roses blossoming in the flower beds.
Refreshed by the city’s blooms, you’ll have more energy to enjoy the sited and to debate politics.