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Spring comes early for Descanso Gardens' cherry blossoms

Close-up of 'Pink Cloud' cherry blossoms, Descanso Gardens
Close-up of 'Pink Cloud' cherry blossoms, Descanso Gardens
Courtesy of Descanso Gardens

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The official start of spring may still be week or so away but at Descanso Gardens, the cherry trees are already in full splendor. Imagine a 25-foot-tree with flowers of every shade of pink blooming directly off dark branches– delicate image of loveliness made ever more precious by its temporary presence. For fans of the arborous beauties, this time of year evokes a contemplative sense of wonder. 

Cherry blossoms in the Japanese Tea Garden, Descanso Gardens.
Cherry blossoms in the Japanese Tea Garden, Descanso Gardens.
Courtesy of Descanso Gardens

"They really remind us of the ephemeral nature of life," says Cam Hall who's been a loyal visitor to Descanso Gardens for 40 years. "I just think they're so magical and poetic to look at. And very fragile like most of the important things in life. We need to relish them."

Celebrated for their dramatic, colorful, annual blooms, the cherry blossoms inspired Descanso to launch a Cherry Blossom Festival some years ago. It includes various activities celebrating Japanese culture through food, music, and art. 

The two week event has become so popular, tickets to the weekend festivities sell out fast. Last year's festival was so highly attended it created a traffic fiasco for the surrounding La Cañada Flintridge community. So this year, you won't be able to get in on a weekend without a ticket purchased in advance. But don't worry, Descanso is open on weekdays and the fruit trees will continue to blossom for a few more weeks.

"They are deciduous so they lose their leaves in the winter time," said Rachel Young, Director of Horticulture and Garden Operations at Descanso Gardens. "It really reminds you of the seasons of the year."

Flowering cherry trees differ from the fruiting trees so you won't be able to pick any cherries for snacking. They originated in Japan and were planted for public enjoyment by the Shogun in the 17th century. "As cities grew more and more developed and there were less natural spaces to spend their time, the Shoguns started planting cherry trees along the riverbed so they could spend time there and enjoy the spring," explained Young who leads guided walks through the blossoming trees for visitors. The tree's history of providing natural beauty for the public to enjoy resonates especially for her as folks from all over Los Angeles flock to Descanso to take in their annual floral display. 

Cherry trees at Descanso date back to the very beginning of the once private estate turned public garden. "We have over 60 trees and 9 varieties of cherries, " said Young. You can find them in the Japanese Garden among other places. "We have anther 15 varieties of flowering fruit trees that are related to cherry trees like apricots and plums." The other various fruit trees also give off an impressive annual bloom. Truth be told, most untrained eyes can't tell the difference between them so all together, the blossoms coalesce to create a wholly vernal experience.  

The drought and subsequent rainy winter we've had make this year a bit unique for Descanso. "We're just having an incredible year for all the plants and flowers, " said Young. "The rain and cold weather means the flowers are lasting longer. So if you come to Descanso right now, you'll see both cherry and other fruit trees blooming and you'll also still see thousands and thousands of camellias in bloom. Even the tulips are starting this week."

You can even catch a guided walk today and tomorrow at 1pm.

Want to plant your visit? General admission is $9. It's located at 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge.

If you want to hear Take Two's Julia Paskin's trip to Descanso Gardens for a peek at their Cherry Blossom Festival, click on the blue Media Player above.