Admiring the springtime blooms is a bit of a national obsession common to both Britain and Japan. They are being rapturously received in the UK in 2019 as we speak, and the first wave of cherry blossoms has started in Japan. Here in the UK we are known for seasonally swooning over daffodils, snowdrops and glades of bluebells, but we do also proudly boast a good number of cherry trees – both imported Japanese and wild.
In Japan cherry blossom is known as ‘sakura’ and it holds a very special place in people’s hearts. There is even a national Japanese ‘blooming forecast’ – in English here on the Japan National Tourist Organisation website.
Appreciating the sakura is literally ‘flower viewing’, 花見 (hanami) in Japanese, and people gather together to celebrate the fleeting, frothing beauty of the cherry blossom trees, most often by sitting underneath them to drink and picnic.
Although springtime weather tends to be less settled here in the UK, we can still enjoy this custom – if we time it right and the petals haven’t blown away! Read on to find out how and, importantly, where to enjoy the season.
If you like to enjoy your blooms with others, join a hanami gathering in London. The Japanese Conversation Group (affiliated to The Japan Society London) hold an annual hanami event, usually under the trees in Kensington Park. Naturally, the date changes every year. The London Japanese Conversation Meetup Group also usually holds an annual event in Regent’s Park. Check the websites for updates.
If you are heading out independently in search of flowers in London, then the ‘Sequins and Cherry Blossoms’ blog by London writer Fran Pickering is essential reading. Her splendid blog boasts several fantastically comprehensive articles on London cherry blossoms, such as ‘London Parks Cherry Blossoms Top Five’ . You can find not only your nearest park, but also the exact location of the cherry trees (see on location photos of cheering clouds of sakura in the ‘virtual tours’ section), so no time wasted. An invaluable guide, considering how large our London parks are.
Are there any cherry trees on the streets near you? I am lucky enough to pass five trees – all in bloom in differing delicate pinks) on our three minute walk to our local primary school, here in Tottenham. If you want to get to know your local trees of all types, the fortuitously named tree expert Paul Wood realised the wonderful book entitled ‘London Street Trees’ in 2017.
For lucky South Londoners, author Paul Wood will lead a Herne Hill walkshop scheduled for Sunday 24th March 2019 10.30am – 12.30pm, when ‘glorious Japanese Yoshino cherry trees will, with luck, be in full flower. This species is unusual in the UK, but is the most frequently found in Tokyo’. Tickets are £19.45, and available on eventbrite.
Outside of London? This smashing BBC article ‘What is Britain’s best blossom?’ is from 2012 but gives us an interesting overview of the tree species, and ideas of where we can find blooms all around the UK. From the cherry walk at Kew Gardens, to Tatton Park in Cheshire, to Brogdale Farm in Kent, it is worth checking out if there is a particular place to catch sakura blooms near you!
Another good round-up of UK-wide cherry blossom locations – from Cornwall to Wales – can be found in this rather ponderously titled Time Out article: Sakura in spring: time to pop your cherry!