Alexandra Garcia -

Hidden Blooms

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 3, 2006

Under a cloud of baby-pink cherry blossoms, with petals fluttering around him like springtime snowflakes, Perry Pickert sat, pandalike and happy, enjoying this weekend's biggest tourist attraction almost alone.

"Please don't mention the street we're on, please. . . . Call it an undisclosed location," said Pickert, one of the Washingtonians who is hip to the city's remote cherry blossom pockets far from tour buses, crowds, pedal boats and thousands of camera clicks.

The Tidal Basin, the official site of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, has been mobbed for days as the 3,000 or so trees that Japan gave to the United States in 1912 are visited, feted and photographed until the two-week-long pageant ends Sunday.

These trees have become a Washington symbol almost as emblematic as the Capitol dome and the Lincoln Memorial. And there's a cult of cherry blossom lovers who have made it a mission to earth the nonnative and somewhat temperamental trees throughout the area, spreading the "cherry blossom love" throughout the land.

"There are lovely, celebrated groves in communities you wouldn't know about," said Dawn Gifford, executive director of D.C. Greenworks, a nonprofit group that ceremoniously plants trios of trees in communities that apply for cherry blossom grants. "Some of these communities have marching bands or barbecues to celebrate their trees. They really value them."

Three more trees joined Washington's pink blush Saturday, when Gifford's group put a trio of blossoming, 15-foot-tall Yoshinos into a plot at Michigan Avenue and 12th Street NE.

The group has helped erect rows of trees along Anacostia Park in Southeast Washington, where dozens of people found easy parking and some flipped open a truck bed and munched sandwiches next to blossoms Friday afternoon.

There are the more obvious, nonfamous groves, such as the Kenwood neighborhood in Bethesda, where suburban streets are covered with a pink canopy of more than 1,200 Yoshino trees and gaggles of suburbanites who want to avoid the blossom crush in the city.

Or there's the storybook vision of a faux Shakespearean town in Foxhall Village, an enclave of stucco and brick, Tudor-style houses at Foxhall and Reservoir roads in Northwest Washington lined with perfect, crayon-box gardens and bursts of pink cherry trees.

"What's great about these trees is that they're the collective effort of the village," said Mieko Nishinimizu, a resident of Foxhall Village who photographed her mother, visiting from Tokyo, among the blossoms late last week. The trees were planted by the village citizens association about a quarter-century ago when the elms planted by the developer began to die.

(Sorry, Mr. Pickert, your neighbor was willing to disclose the location.)

"In Tokyo, in order to see blossoms like these, we have to travel to the mountains. And here these are, right outside our homes," said Nishinimizu, who said the village at this time of year, with its Tudor homes and Japanese blossoms, is the prefect reflection, if not a celebration, of her marriage to an Englishman.

Along Connecticut Avenue NW, the austere, concrete front of the University of the District of Columbia is softened by a puff of cherry trees on the path to the library.

At Stanton Park on Capitol Hill, children teeter-tottering in the playground and dogs romping in the less-fragrant, hound-populated section of the park do so under a pink canopy usually unseen by tourists.

At Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, more than 200 trees blossom a little later than the Tidal Basin ones because the suburbs are slightly colder than downtown Washington.

And at Hains Point in East Potomac Park in the District, rows of about 1,300 cherry trees are close to the Tidal Basin but draw far smaller crowds.

Finally, there are the small groups of trees on a quiet street or a cluttered alley, those planted by residents willing to water, prune and fuss over the delicate species.

"There's this one, lonely Yoshino in the grossest alley near my place. I always see it when I'm pinching my nose and taking out the recycling. And I just love looking at it," said Liz Tylander, who is the community coordinator for D.C. Greenworks. "Right behind an Indian restaurant and by a dumpster is this beautiful thing."

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