The Japanese tradition of enjoying the ephemeral blossoms of cherry trees is called hanami, which means “flower viewing.” Every April and May in New York City, you have an opportunity to practice hanami.
There is growing evidence that urban trees help reduce our blood pressure and heart rate, decrease stress, and improve mental attentiveness. Cherry blossom viewing is one way to spend time with city trees.
If you are reading this in NYC, it’s not too late to find cherry blossoms this weekend.
Ride the Waves of Cherry Blossoms
Cherry blossoms have short blooming periods – no one tree remains in flower for more than a week. There are many different cherry cultivars in NYC and they bloom in succession, one after another.
Often the first cherries bloom in late March or early April, while the last cherries bloom about four weeks later.
Cherry blossom viewing is a seasonal meditation on the ephemeral. If you are not paying attention, you will miss it.
Favorite Places in NYC for Cherry Blossom Viewing
Here is my idiosyncratic and incomplete list of places to notice and enjoy cherry blossoms.
Prospect Park has an impressive stand of double-blossom Kanzan cherry trees at the entrance at Grand Army Plaza. There are also several cherry trees lining the north end of the Long Meadow, a perfect place for a hanami picnic to celebrate the arrival of spring.
My favorite cherry trees in Prospect Park are the weeping cherry trees in the Vale of Cashmere.
The Vale of Cashmere is out of the way and off the beaten path. I usually visit in early May to see the weeping cherries and to listen to the migrating songbirds. It is a good spot to be bathed in bird song.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is the most famous spot for cherry blossom viewing in NYC. Their Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden was the first Japanese garden created in the US for public viewing. The garden’s online Cherry Watch maps out the blooms in real-time.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Sakura Matsuri festival is extremely crowded but worth seeing at least once. This annual weekend celebration of Japanese culture features food stalls, traditional music and dance, and sometimes even J-Pop. It seems like half of the city comes to pose for photos under the cherry trees.
Can’t get enough outdoor celebrations? Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens also has an annual cherry blossom festival.
Japan gave Central Park thousands of cherry trees in 1912. My favorite way to see them is to walk around the Reservoir (between 86th and 96th Streets). You can see Yoshino cherry trees on the east side of the Reservoir and Kanzan trees on the west side.
Another great cherry tree walk is to cross the park at 72nd Street. You’ll pass Pilgrim Hill (East Side at 72nd Street) and Cherry Hill (Mid-Park at 72nd Street), both beautiful locations to enjoy the cherry blossoms.
Sakura, cherry blossoms, represent the impermanent nature of life. There is no better place to think about life’s impermanence than in the beautiful expanse of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.
Green-Wood contains one of New York City’s greatest collection of trees. At last count, there are over 7000 trees, including some of the most stunning cherry trees I have ever seen.
During my visits to Kyoto and Tokyo, I was surprised to see the narrow streets lined with potted plants. I thought plants like these would certainly be stolen in the West. I learned that this was the concept of gardening for strangers.
My fellow New Yorkers don’t yet display this type of trust in others by putting their own plants out on the sidewalk. But there are tiny gardens visible from the sidewalk throughout New York City, where private property becomes the public space for the eyes.
My favorite walks are through Brownstone Brooklyn, including Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Ft. Greene, Cobble Hill, Carrol Gardens, and Brooklyn Heights. Here one can practice hanami on the way to the train, on the way back from the store, and just for a moment in front of the neighbor’s yard.
Blossoms In the Air, Blossoms On the Ground
Years ago, I almost missed spring entirely. I vowed that I would never make that mistake again and I must notice spring. The cherry blossoms are a way to help me remember that promise.
If you missed the moment and just see cherry blossoms on the ground, it may not be too late.
Look for the crabapple blossoms.
Smell the lilac blooming.