When Kenwood’s population blossoms


Warm weather and blooming cherry trees brought people along Brookside Drive in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chevy Chase last Thursday. Before a single house was built in the area, the developers planted more than 1,000 Yoshino cherry trees. (Dan Gross/THE GAZETTE)
April 17, 2013

With every bag of cookies and cup of lemonade she sold, Annie Madden, 6, handed the customer a pink bauble, or a “cherry blossom gem,” as she called it.

Annie and her brother, Will, 9, needed a hook recently in Kenwood. They weren’t the only kids operating a lemonade stand, hoping to capitalize on the neighborhood’s abundance of cherry blossoms.

Thanks to the fluttery pink and white flowers, Kenwood is transformed for about a week each spring from a tranquil enclave of million-dollar-homes to a tourist hot spot — complete with traffic-directing cops and professional photographers taking family portraits.

While the Tidal Basin is nationally renowned for its cherry trees — it’s the site of the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo — others prefer Kenwood.

Nestled between Chevy Chase and Bethesda, along the Capital Crescent Trail, sits the one-time dairy farm, purchased in 1927 by the Kennedy-Chamberlin Development Company. Before a single house was built — Kenwood is now home to about 300 houses — the developers planted more than 1,000 Yoshino cherry trees.

That foresight paid off. On those precious few days every spring, Kenwood is awash in pale pink and white blossoms, which seemingly weigh down trees that bend over the streets, creating a canopy of fluffy blooms.

Those blooms make the perfect photographic backdrop. Up and down the main drag, Brookside Drive, every kind of photographer was evident on Saturday — professionals taking family portraits, parents capturing children’s first steps among fallen petals and teens taking “selfies” to post to Facebook and Instagram.

This year, everyone had to wait a bit longer. Because of a longer and chillier-than-usual winter, the peak blossom time kept getting pushed back.

The peak originally was predicted to be April 3-6 at the Tidal Basin.

Last year, the blooms peaked March 20, but this year, it turned out to be around April 10.

According to the National Park Service, predicting the peak bloom date is an inexact science. Peak bloom is defined as the day when 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry are open.

For the past seven years, peak bloom at the Tidal Basin has been at the end of March or no later than the first of April. The blooms in Kenwood always open a few days after the ones at the Tidal Basin.

A few days might not seem like a big deal — unless you’re planning a festival. The Kenwood garden club held its own festival April 6, said Suzanne Shapiro, a club member. There were no blossoms, but some walkers braving the chilly temperatures bought lemonade and cupcakes.

Kenwood residents take their stewardship of the trees seriously, making sure they are pruned properly and in good health, Shapiro said.

“The onus is on us to replace the trees out of our own pocket,” Shapiro said. “So you become rabid about protecting the trees, and how special they are.”

That doesn’t mean the locals resent the once-a-year invasion, she said, even though all of that traffic can mean it takes 15 minutes just to leave the neighborhood.

“It’s an inconvenience, but a temporary inconvenience,” Shapiro said. “And it’s outweighed by living among this extraordinary beauty. The flowers start cranberry, and then, boom, they’re pink and then, at the end, it’s white. It’s like going to a wedding.”

For Chris Watanabe and his family, it was worth the drive from Sterling. Watanabe said he wanted to take his two small children, Amanda and Nathan, to see the cherry blossoms with his wife, Lauryn, but, “We didn’t want to go into D.C.”

He watched as his kids played in the creek that runs down the center of Brookside Drive and said how much the scene reminded him of the four years he lived in Japan.

“It’s unusual to see so many cherry trees concentrated in one area here,” Watanabe said. “In Japan, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Tokyo or the suburbs — they’re everywhere. It’s part of their culture. It’s a really big deal.”

Just like in Kenwood.

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