To me, it’s the poetic form of the tree and the subtle beauty of the delicate blossoms. The petals are white but seem the softest pink in some light, they are single in form, and at times are mildly fragrant and alivewith honeybees. They are at once fragile and as unstoppable as the sunrise.
(Click here to make your own cherry blossom origami.)
I asked Joe Krakora, the most Zen gardener I know, what he sees in them. He and his late wife, Polly, would go down to the Tidal Basin from their Georgetown rowhouse to savor blossom time at dawn. Krakora says he feels in a flowering cherry a force outside its physicality, “a space beyond the space” that invites reflection and spirituality. “It’s a Zen experience without knowing it’s a Zen experience,” he said.
Indeed, our whole relationship with Japanese plants is an unwitting Zen experience: Forget the flowering cherries for a moment — our landscapes, our lives are imbued with hundreds of garden plants from the Land of the Rising Sun.
The most striking example is the azalea, the blingiest bush in town, but others abound. Peruse your garden and what do you see? Chances are there’s a massing of the evergreen aucuba next to a camellia in full crimson bloom. Soon the lemon-yellow blossoms of the winter hazel will appear above the small white blooms of the ground cover pachysandra, while the pieris shrub will produce gorgeous red leaves along with cascading clusters of bell-like flowers.
Japanese plants have become integral to some of our most iconic American landscapes, not just at the Tidal Basin but at the White House, with its stunning Japanese maples and fall chrysanthemum displays, and at the U.S. Capitol and Library of Congress, where star magnolias offer the first bright flowering of March.
We may not realize it, but “an American garden without Japanese plants would be unrecognizable,” said Todd Forrest, vice president of horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden.
Most of our azaleas and many of our lilies came from Japan, along with the lacecap and mophead hydrangeas of summer. In April, the Japanese wisteria blooms along with crab apples bred with Japanese species, and in May, the rugosa rose opens with its intoxicating fragrance. This is the salt-tolerant shrub rose of the seashore.
From Japan came common evergreens, the boxwood-lookalike Japanese holly, the elegant and towering Japanese cedar, the Japanese yew and the Hinoki and Sawara false cypresses.