Every spring, nestled in the midst of Brooklyn, New York’s iconic architecture—the rows upon rows of centuries-old brownstones, narrow streets and the Grand Army Plaza with its arch and traffic circle—a decidedly incongruous (and decidedly enormous!) swath of delicate ballerina-pink blossoms showers Prospect Park, stretching as far as the eye can see in every direction.
Welcome to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Sakura Matsuri, or Cherry Blossom Festival. With more than 200 trees on 21 hectares, this public garden’s pink-and-white display is one of the largest and most diverse outside of Japan. Forty-two varieties of the blooming beauties can be viewed over the course of Hamani, the season for the Japanese custom of viewing flowers, which begins in late March or early April just as the daffodils and magnolias appear, and lasts well into May. During these weeks, thousands of guests wander the garden’s meandering paths amid the honey-and-jasmine scent of blossoms that appear in hues that include bubblegum pink, jewel-toned magenta and misty white. Against a spring sky, whether blue and happy or slate-grey and moody, the blooms look like hand-painted silk textiles or watercolours brought to life.
And as if the sweet perfume, birdsong and blushing palette of the gardens wasn’t enough, there is also the trilling of flutes being played, the quiet trickle of water being poured at tea ceremonies, the slow-motion gestures of Japanese classical dancers as their reflections ripple in ponds. More than 60 events like this are what make the Botanic Garden’s two-day festival an experience that transcends time and place. Visitors wander along the tree-lined allées as if strolling inside a 1920s postcard. Smitten, they pose for pictures in the garden’s Esplanade with its 76 glowing pink double-blossomed specimens of ‘Kwanzan’ Japanese flowering cherry. Lulled by the scenery, guests quietly pass the time beneath the boughs of the trees, lazily observing the children who skip and run along the winding paths or kneel to look for fish in the Lily Pool Terrace. As they enter the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden with its delicate weeping Higan cherries, visitors pause, holding their breath, as if to make sure that what they’re seeing is real.