Japanese Cherry Blossoms – Washington, DC Exhibitions

Two beautiful exhibitions on the theme of the Japanese cherries are running in Washington, DC in Spring 2018. The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the U.S. National Arboretum host the exhibit on Sakura Orihon: Diary of a Cherry Blossom Journey, which runs from March 10 to April 8. It showcases the journey by landscape architect Ron Henderson from south to north Japan to follow and document the blossoming of the sakura, the Japanese cherry tree. A second exhibition opens on March 14 at Dumbarton Oaks on Seeing Cherries and displays samples from its Rare Book and Ephemera Collections.

Ron Henderson recorded his observations and experiences in the format of the Japanese folding sketchbooks, called orihon. This beautiful exhibition displays samples of his sketchbook and recording techniques, together with a series of displays that echo in their design the accordion-folded format of the orihon sketchbook. The exhibit allows for an inspiring and informing display about the cherry blossom culture in Japan.

He started his journey with the intention to observe and study the horticultural practices that are used to protect young trees and to extend or rejuvenate the lives of older cherry trees. His sketchbooks and photographs provide samples of traditional techniques, such as pruning, straw mat wrapping, root grafting, and the impressive and ornamental methods of branch crutches and rope tenting.

As his journey unfolded he became fascinated by the cultural, culinary, public and social aspects of the sakura and cherry blossoms in Japan. The exhibition balances the diverse horticultural practices with the cultural aspects that he observed. It shows how the cherry blossoms and Spring season slowly spread north across Japan, and how the public enjoys the various stages of hanami (flower viewing). Fascinating are the impressions of his pilgrimages to the three great ancient cherry trees and various historical gardens, temples, castles, and public spaces.

For the cherry tree enthusiast there also is the Seeing Cherries exhibition in Georgetown, Washington, DC that will open at Dumbarton Oaks on March 14, 2018. The Seeing Cherries exhibition shows samples from the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book and Ephemera Collections and also displays one of the orihon sketchbooks by Ron Henderson from his journey. Historical photographs from the Dumbarton Oaks collection of the Tidal Basin cherry blossom trees in Washington, DC are also on display. The cherry trees at the Tidal Basin were a gift by Japan from 1912 and are seen as a key event that made the wider American public more aware of the Japanese cherry blossoms and associated traditions, and enabled the public to more easily get a taste of the flower viewing experience.

Ron Henderson is Professor of Landscape Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and a Senior Fellow of Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks. He will also present an illustrated talk on March 17 at the U.S. National Arboretum Auditorium on A Cherry Blossom Journey in Japan.

Text and photography by Jan Haenraets

 Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada, and a Professor in the Preservation Studies Program, at Boston University

Information and sources:

Sakura Orihon: Diary of a Cherry Blossom Journey, Exhibition Info, at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the U.S. National Arboretum.

U.S. National Arboretum Homepage.

Seeing Cherries exhibition at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

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