Welcoming Spring: Cherry Blossom Ambassador at Branch Brook Park
Volunteering with the Branch Brook Park Alliance
Early each Spring Essex County’s Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ, lights up with millions of cherry blossoms in varied hues of gentle pinks and soft whites, heralding the end of winter.
The park is home to over 5,200 Japanese flowering cherry trees in 18 varieties.
That’s more trees than can be found in the magnificent Washington, DC display (which is about 3,600 trees).
For about 4 weeks in Spring, the trees blossom and paint the landscape with a stunning array of flowers.
How did Branch Brook Park get so many Cherry Blossom Trees?
Many of the original trees planted in Branch Brook Park (just over 2,000) were donated to the Essex County Park System by the Bamberger and Fuld family in 1927.(1)
There were several other donors over the years that donated sets of cherry trees to add to the collection and the Branch Brook Park Alliance continues to purchase and plant trees today.
While some species of cherry trees have long lives (up to 250 years), most varieties are fairly short-lived, averaging 30 – 40 years (2) which means the trees need careful care and occasional replanting for the new generations.
Who cares for the trees?
The Branch Brook Park Alliance is a public/private partnership with the Essex County Department of Parks and Recreation and Cultural Affairs. The Alliance provides ongoing stewardship to the renowned collection as well as cares for the other plants and garden areas within the park. They keep the park clean and beautiful for public use. They help provide volunteers for a variety of events in the park and have ongoing groups of volunteers who help pick up litter and do pruning and maintenance.
The park as it looks today was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1898. He was the famed landscape architect who designed Central Park in NYC. He envisioned Branch Brook as a grand, centralize park of respite for the citizens of the city of Newark.
While Central Park in NYC is known as the first landscaped park in the US, Branch Brook Park is distinguished by being the first county-run/owned park to be opened for public use in the US and it appears in the National Register of Historic Places.(3)
During the brief Cherry Tree Blossom season, which lasts approximately 3-5 weeks, the Alliance plays a key role in both maintenance/upkeep of the park and gardens, and in designing a welcoming and informative visitor experience.
I volunteered with the Branch Brook Park Alliance for a shift as a Cherry Blossom Ambassador.
My role was to welcome visitors as they strolled through the park, sharing details about the trees and the history of the park, and answering any questions they may have.
I also shared maps with them, discussed different blossom viewing areas, and provided directions to key areas such bathroom facilities, nearby restaurants/delis, etc.
And I helped collect donations for the Branch Brook Park Alliance for their educational programs, restoration and maintenance of landscapes, accessibility projects, etc.
Our team-leader and project coordinator was the head of the Branch Brook Park Alliance… Thomas. He started our shift by sharing key details about the park and the trees and getting us ready for what we should expect from the visitors. He continually checked in with the volunteers during the shift to be sure everything was going well and to help answer any visitor questions we could not answer. And people had questions about everything! From the age of some of the trees, to how they could tour the spectacular cathedral that was adjacent to the park, to where they could purchase cherry trees of their own to start a grove in a park in their town, to questions about lanternflies and other pests – Thomas had the answers to all. I learned a ton from him that day!
Most of my day was spent at the Branch Brook Park Alliance table working alongside one of the Alliance staff members. But I also had time to walk around a bit, enjoy the park, and look at the beautiful trees and flowers. Such a wonderful celebration of spring!
Cherry blossoms are an important symbol in Japanese culture. Because they only bloom for a few weeks each year, they represent renewal and the fleeting nature of life.(4)
It was sunny but very windy and chilly the day I volunteered – winter coats and scarves were a must. Winter was reluctant to let go of its grasp.
Even so, there were thousands of visitors to the park that day. Families were picnicking and having parties, groups were walking and taking photos, and children were playing on the lawns.
The blossoms were at the very beginning of opening their blooms, just peeking out, but it was still spectacular!
What does the park look like when all the trees are blooming?
Here are some photos of the park in full bloom:
As you can see from all the photos in this blog post, the flowers are amazing any time during their bloom cycle!
You can celebrate Cherry Blossom Season from wherever you are!
You don’t have to visit Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ to celebrate the season (although if you live anywhere nearby I would highly encourage you to do so). You can celebrate spring and enjoy the blooms from wherever you are with these activities:
First – learn more about the Cherry Blossoms and the Branch Brook Park Alliance, by visiting their website at: https://branchbrookpark.org/cherryblossoms.html
You can also donate to support their educational programs, to maintain sustainable landscapes, and to support complex renewal projects at: https://branchbrookpark.org/donate.html
Second – You can experience the amazing Cherry Blossoms of Branch Brook Park from anywhere in the world through the Alliance’s Live Web Cam. They have two cameras set up – one on the north end of the park and one on the south, so you get great views: http://ecpo2.packetalk.net:5350/IVC/views.htm#
Third – You can have your own Cherry Blossom Party, celebrating the arrival of spring! Here’s how:
Try a fun cherry-blossom-inspired mocktail recipe the whole family will love:
- Pour pink lemonade into a glass about 2/3 full. Add a large scoop of pineapple sherbet into the cup. Add a few fresh cherries on the top and enjoy! If you’re super-creative, add a few spots of canned whipped cream to mimic the petals of the flowers.
Try writing a Haiku about Spring. A Haiku is a Japanese poetic form that consists of 3 lines, with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 in the third. Here’s one I wrote to get your creative juices flowing:
Learn a few beautiful Japanese vocabulary words about the season:
Finally – download the coloring page below and let your imagination go wild with the colors of spring!
Author/creator of coloring page: Lena London – This coloring page is a derivative work) (tracing copy of photography work). Original image credit: Cherry blossoms in Vancouver photo by Eviatar Bach Permission: Free for personal, educational, editorial or commercial use. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.
I hope you’ve enjoyed journeying with me and the Branch Brook Park Alliance to experience the beautiful cherry blossom trees at Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ. If you create a Haiku or color the page, share them – I’d love to see your creations!
XO XO – Penny
Citations in Article:
(1) Baker, C. (2010). Cherry Blossom Land at Branch Brook Park: A Bamberger-Fuld Legacy. AuthorHouse. https://doi.org/ISBN-13:978-1452000145
(2) Maloney, M. (2019, April 2). How Cherry Blossoms Became the Most Celebrated Event of the Spring. Town & Country. Retrieved April 3, 2023, from https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/a27008901/cherry-blossom-facts/
(3) (n.d.). Branch Brook Park (About). Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. Retrieved April 3, 2023, from https://essexcountyparks.org/parks/branch-brook-park/about#:~:text=Branch%20Brook%20Park%2C%20the%20nation’s,trees%20in%20the%20United%20States.
(4) Takeda, E. (2014, April 9). Significance of Sakura: Cherry Blossom Traditions in Japan. Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Retrieved April 3, 2023, from https://festival.si.edu/blog/2014/significance-of-sakura-cherry-blossom-traditions-in-japan/#:~:text=Cherry%20blossoms%20are%20a%20symbolic,colleagues%2C%20friends%2C%20and%20family.