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Blossoms of Hope is Howard's version of 'blossom mania'

While most of Howard County's cherry trees are not expected to reveal peak blooms for another month, the county's annual Cherrybration celebrated begins April 1.
While most of Howard County's cherry trees are not expected to reveal peak blooms for another month, the county's annual Cherrybration celebrated begins April 1. (File photo)

Howard County still believes you can never have too much of a good thing.

As it has in years past, the county hopes some of the million-plus visitors who turn out for the National Cherry Blossom Festival will travel another 40 miles north to see the cherry trees in peak bloom in the county two weeks later.

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Joe Barbera said Blossoms of Hope is grateful to Washington for cultivating "blossom mania," which provides the opportunity for the county to piggyback off the wildly popular tourist attraction centered on Washington's 3,750 trees with its own display of 1,800 trees.

"We owe D.C. our thanks for making it a rite of spring to see the cherry blossoms," said Barbera, who is chairman of the nonprofit's board.

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Change has come to the county's beautification project, which is marking its 10th anniversary this year.

Blossoms of Hope, which has raised more than $225,000 since 2005 by tying the showy, pink blooms to breast cancer prevention and awareness, no longer comes under the county's tourism bureau.

As of December, the organization is a "stand-alone entity," said Barbera, co-owner of Aida Bistro and Wine Bar.

"The days of us being wholly funded by tourism will end on July 1," he said. "We will be working [to obtain grants] through local organizations like the Community Foundation of Howard County."

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The existing series of successful April events known as Cherrybration Days will stay intact, and other fundraisers will follow in May and June. A portion of all proceeds will still be contributed to the Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center at Howard County General Hospital.

But more changes in outreach are in store.

"We are moving in different directions than we have in the past," Barbera said. "This is an opportunity to think differently and to look at other ways to grow and involve the community."

One of those new directions will be a stronger emphasis on tree sales, he said, which can now be handled online via the organization's updated website at blossomsofhope.org. Trees have already been planted in more than 40 locations across the county.

Native dogwood trees are available for purchase for $225 as are Kwanzan cherry trees. Three legacy trees, which are saplings taken from the Yoshino cherry trees given to the city of Washington by the mayor of Tokyo in 1912, are available for $5,000 each.

"We've also gotten feedback from customers who want to buy something other than a cherry tree," Barbera noted.

A monthly email newsletter called "Blossoms News" is now being distributed, and interested residents can subscribe on the website.

A new program called the Tree Hugger Campaign, which will be announced at the Pretty in Pink fashion show April 17 at Turf Valley Resort, will focus on selling sponsorships of already-planted trees.

A personalized plaque will be installed on the metal screen that wraps around the sponsored tree when a person donates $155, said Lene McCollum, who was recently hired as the organization's part-time administrative coordinator.

"The theme is 'Trees Need Love, Too,' " she said.

While Cherrybration Days kicked off April 1 with Pink Plate Specials available at 18 local restaurants, there is still some time before the county's trees reach their full glory, which lags behind the peak bloom period in Washington.

The National Park Service is predicting the mostly Yoshino cherry trees that line the Tidal Basin will peak sometime between April 11 and April 14, said Sean Harbaugh, assistant director of open space management for the Columbia Association and a Blossoms of Hope board member.

Blossoms of Hope only has a few Yoshino cherry trees, which are located at Lake Kittamaqundi in Town Center.

"In years past, they have typically been a week behind the D.C. blooms and I would expect that again this year," he said, making their peak blooming time sometime between April 18 and April 21.

"A vast majority of the trees in the Blossoms of Hope program are Kwanzan cherry trees and they typically bloom two weeks after the Yoshino trees," Harbaugh said, so they should peak sometime between May 3 and May 5.

For more information on Cherrybration Days, call 443-538-0858 or go to blossomsofhope.org where a county map showing cherry tree locations is available.

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