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CHERRY ON TOP

Two-month-long blossom celebration begins at BBG

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This year, in addition to celebrating a quarter-century of its cherry blossom festival, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden presents "Hanami," a two-month-long call to cherish each stage of the cherry tree’s flowering. The Japanese tradition of "Hanami" includes appreciation of the cherry trees’ buds, their glorious blossoming, and even the fluttering away of the last petals.

Normally, the flowers last just three days, but BBG can celebrate their "Hanami" from April 8 to May 28 because the garden has 42 varieties that blossom at different times.

Artist Mizue Sawano has not only reflected on the BBG’s collection of cherry blossom trees herself, but she has preserved them in her exquisite, expressionist paintings.

"Mizue captures different varieties of cherries, which have different feelings," said Anita Jacobs, BBG’s director of public programs. Jacobs explains that the misty, weeping ("Higan") cherries, which bend over the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, have a very different mood than the upright "Kanzan" cherries, with showy double blossoms, that line the allee in the Cherry Esplanade.

An exhibit of these expressive paintings, "Mizue Sawano: The Art of the Cherry Tree," opens on April 8 in the Steinhardt Conservatory. The show features her original, "quite large" works that have been reproduced on "Sakura Matsuri" posters since 1992, said Jacobs.

"When she first moved to New York from Japan, Mizue started coming here regularly and really connected to our collection," she said. "[Mizue] has very site-specific paintings and has a huge collection based on our water lilies, too."


Blossom updates

This weekend, the "Okame" and "Higan" trees are blossoming, according to Patrick Cullina, BBG’s vice president of horticulture, adding that bloom predictions are dependent on Mother Nature.

"A significant cold snap can harm blossoms or slow things down," he explained - but added that Wednesday’s snowstorm "did little, if any, damage."

Throughout the next two months, cherry blossom buffs can keep abreast of the activity of the garden’s 220 trees, as well as read up on the history, cultivation and care of the cherries, on the garden’s "Cherry Watch" Web site, www.bbg.org/cherrywatch.

During this garden-wide celebration, even the gift shop and cafe are offering Japanese-themed gifts and foods, said Jacobs.


’Sakura Matsuri’

The pinnacle of BBG’s "Hanami" celebration is the two-day "Sakura Matsuri" or "cherry blossom festival," slated for April 29-30. Under a tent, in their buildings and throughout the grounds, the garden will present Japanese arts and culture: live music, dance and theater; workshops for adults and children; exhibits; demonstrations; and of course, the spectacular flowering of those cherry trees.

In addition to traditional and classical forms of Japanese art and culture ("People from Japan tell us that some of these art forms are dying out, so it’s so special to them that we do it here," said Jacobs), this year’s festival will also include the utterly contemporary CosPlay costumes - handmade attire inspired by Japanese animation - and a rock concert by Brooklyn band Gaijin a Go-Go.

"I love that some visitors come to see Gaijin a Go-Go, and leave after having done a bonsai workshop," said Jacobs of the wide-ranging list of events that is expected to draw record crowds this year.

Because of the popularity of "Sakura Matsuri," Jacobs advises coming in the morning to enjoy the blossoms, so the rest of the day can be taken up with activities. In anticipation of a big crowd, BBG will have additional gates open, but Brooklyn Botanic Garden members can skip lines altogether by flashing their membership card.


Out of Inuyama

This year, Bensonhurst native Anthony Bianchi, who is a city councilman in the Japanese city of Inuyama, will bring several artisans from his adopted hometown to show their works at "Sakura Matsuri." Bianchi will also give "a presentation about his life and journey from Brooklyn to Inuyama," said Jacobs.

"We felt that the BBG ’Sakura Matsuri’ would be a good place to introduce some aspects of Japanese culture," he told GO Brooklyn via e-mail. While Bianchi is said to be the first person born in North America to be elected to public office in Japan, his open-minded city does hold other traditions quite dear: its own cultural festival is 372-years-old.

Among the dozens of visitors Bianchi is bringing from Inuyama will be artisans who create Japanese shoes ("geta"), favored tofu, Japanese calligraphy ("shodo"), and works wrought from antique roof tiles. Inuyama sculptor Junkro will create a site-specific work from flowering cherry branches, according to Jacobs.


New home for bonsai

Guided tours of BBG’s Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and the newly remodeled C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum - which has more than 100 specimens on display, according to bonsai collection curator Robert Mahler - will also be offered during "Sakura Matsuri."

Inside the Steinhardt Conservatory, the dwarf potted trees - some of which are several hundred years old - are now displayed on wooden tables, above a paving pattern of bluestone and blue-green rocks meant to evoke land or water.

The garden’s tree peonies, a gift from Japan’s Yatsuka-Cho prefecture to commemorate 9-11, will have blooms as large as salad plates at the beginning of May, predicted Cullina.

"They’re absolutely jaw-dropping," said Jacobs, of the peonies that were planted near the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden in 2002. "The blooms are really dramatic, in rich dark colors. It’s worth a trip just to see them."

Indeed, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s entire "Hanami" celebration is really a two-month-long invitation to take a moment to enjoy beauty.

"The Japanese appreciate the [flowering cherry tree’s] bud, the peak of bloom and the decline of blooming and dropping of petals - the process," said Cullina about these blossoms that have inspired everything from poetry to kimono patterns. "It’s an annual reminder that life is fleeting, and that you need to stop and enjoy the show while you can."

"Hanami," the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s celebration of the cherry blossom life cycle, runs April 8-May 28, beginning with the opening of the art exhibit "Mizue Sawano: The Art of the Cherry Tree" in the Steinhardt Conservatory on Saturday. Also, some varieties of cherry blossoms will be in bloom this weekend. Check www.bbg.org/cherrywatch for the latest report.

The "Sakura Matsuri" festival will take place, rain or shine, throughout the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, from 10 am to 6 pm on April 29 and 30. Brooklyn Botanic Garden is located at 900 Washington Ave., at Eastern Parkway, in Prospect Heights. All activities are free with garden admission: $5 adults, $3 seniors and students with ID, free for children under age 16. For a schedule, call the hotline at (718) 623-7333 or visit the Web site.

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March 25, 2008, 10:41 pm
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March 25, 2008, 10:42 pm

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