There is something so mystical and free about cherry blossoms. Images of the strong trees gracefully spilling over with white or pink cherry blossoms are really the only thing that crosses my mind when someone mentions “spring”. Well, that and Meryl Streep’s voice from that scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda Priestly says: “florals…in spring. Ground-breaking”. Well Miranda can keep her cool demeanour and ambivalence towards flower-blooming season because nothing makes me feel more like a kid again than watching the gradual bloom of London’s cherry blossoms while I frolic through the parks to the concerned amusement of the strangers around me.
While cherry blossoms can be found all over the world, it is most commonly associated with Japan. The Japanese highly revere cherry blossom (or sakura) season, which holds as much poetic sentiment as it does aesthetic appeal. It is so popular that it is widely regarded as the country’s unofficial national flower and is often used as a diplomatic gift bestowed by the Japanese – which is how so many of them got to London.
Not all London-based cherry blossom trees are imported though – many of them are wildflowers thriving in their natural home. What is wonderful about this is that there are so very many species in our little city alone that they all bloom at slightly different times, which serves to make sakura season even longer. And if any of us need anything after this long and frightfully cold winter, it is longer sakura season to bring us back into the outdoors once more.
The key thing for you to check before you venture out in search of these magnificent trees is timing – and you will learn that when it comes to cherry blossoms: timing is everything. April is prime time to find all kinds of species in bloom, but there are generally three waves of flowering according to the guru of all things cherry blossom in London.
Fran Pickering writes a wonderful London-based blog called Sequins and Cherry Blossom and she, very helpfully, splits cherry blossom blooming into these three waves, when abouts those waves might happen this year based on patterns of years past then which parks will be in bloom at those times because of the specific trees that are there (and where to find them). It is the ultimate pocket guide to consult before you embark on this adventure. (Side note to Fran Pickering, any botanists or really anyone with more in-depth knowledge about cherry blossoms than I: please excuse any misuse of terminology. I am but a humble cherry blossom fan and am, by no means, an expert).
According to Pickering, Early Blossom generally refers to the beginning of April (although some of these spots have started earlier over the last couple of years with some coming into flower in mid-March – so it’s never too early to start looking). Peak Season Blossom usually demarcates the middle to later parts of April, while Late Blossom displays the final rounds of flowering at the end of April. These times are not exact what with the climate changing all the time. The best estimates can only be given around mid-March, so it is best to check with the experts then or start exploring early to be on the safe side.
Kew Gardens is a firm favourite for its wide array of expertly kept plant species and should be at the top of your list for this one as it is one of the only parks in London that has some form of flowering cherry blossom in all three stages. In Early Blossom you will find white blossoms in the Secluded Garden as well as a few trees behind the Palm House and a spectacular weeping cherry by its pond. Peak Season Blossom sees concentrated flowering in this spot behind Palm House, while the buds gradually seem to travel down the path connecting Palm House to Temperate House in the Late Blossom.
Fortunately, Central London is spoiled for choice with many of the cherry blossom trees that have taken root in our favourite parks blooming at different times. In the Early Blossom, you’ll find them in St James’s Park in the grove near Storey’s Gate and in Peak Season Blossom they will encircle the lake. Regent’s Park has a couple sprinkled here and there at all three stages, but your safest bet is to have a look around the English Garden, Queen Mary’s Garden and around the Avenue Gardens (especially by the arch in Peak Season Blossom). Kensington Gardens will make a fashionably late entrance in the grove near the Albert Memorial for the finale of the Late Blossom (and really is quite a tease because it only showed us a few blooming trees in the Italian Garden for the Early Blossom).
However, if you want to truly appreciate the art and culture of hanami or “flower-viewing” in line with the significance that these blossoms hold in Japanese culture, then your experience will not be complete without a trip to Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park. During Peak Season Blossom, you might be so lucky as to snap the coveted shot of the cherry blossoms in bloom in the tree that overlooks the trickling waterfall.
The Japanese appreciation of cherry blossoms goes so much further than just marvelling at their sheer magnificence. They are a beacon for the delicate and precious ephemerality of life. Widely regarded as some of the more beautiful flowers, cherry blossoms only last for about a week after they flower before they are gracefully swept away by the wind or fall like “sakura snow”. Their limited but impactful lifespan contains so many metaphors for truly appreciating life to the fullest in each moment – and being mindful of the exquisite value of even the smallest things.
I think this is one of those beautiful things that should be meditated upon often. You might feel like you need an escape to get in touch with your inner self – and that is not always easy to do in the hustle and bustle of the city. Fortunately, many hotels these days are realising the importance of this balance: one such example is London City Suites – specifically at their Montcalm on Chiswell Street. And for those of you who made your way there by car – worry not! The Barbican Centre parking facilities are one of the few places where parking in London is a breeze. This Montcalm Hotel London spa has specifically designed a Mind, Body & City program: encompassing yoga, meditation, good sleep, luxurious bubble baths…oh, and did I mention their sauna and steam room in their Wellness Centre? Whatever it takes to make you “live in the now” and reflect on the beauty around and within you.