The joyful sight of trees bursting into blossom during the first Covid lockdown last spring gave comfort and hope to countless people confined indoors or only allowed to roam very briefly outside.
Almost 12 months on a conservation charity is leading a major project to create “blossom circles” in cities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to provide spaces for reflection and optimism to aid the emotional recovery from the pandemic.
The National Trust said the project – and other planned events this spring and in future years – was part of its ambition to inspire a British equivalent of hanami – the Japanese custom of relishing the fleeting sight and scent of blossom.
Planting is well under way at the first of the sites at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. The design for the “London Blossom Garden” features 33 UK-grown trees, including cherry, plum, hawthorn and crab-apple to represent the 33 London boroughs.
Blossom circles are planned for Plymouth, Newcastle upon Tyne and Nottingham. Other locations will be announced in due course. The spaces will be used in various ways, including for events and social gatherings, workshops, festivals and exhibitions as lockdown restrictions are eased and for years to come.
The project, supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery, will help meet the trust’s ambition to plant 20m trees by 2030 to help tackle climate change and create new homes for nature.
Hilary McGrady, the charity’s director general, said: “Our vision is for nature, beauty and history for everyone. Our simple ambition with this project is to bring all of these elements together in the creation of green, nature-rich havens in the very heart of urban areas. Everyone needs beautiful, open spaces, wherever they live.”
In March last year the Trust urged people in lockdown to take a moment to pause, actively notice and enjoy the transient beauty of blossom, and share their images on social media using the hashtag #BlossomWatch.
Thousands of people took up the challenge, some sharing pictures of blossoms that brightened their back gardens while others spotted the delicate, colourful blooms as they took their permitted daily exercise.
McGrady said the ambition now was to embed blossom moments or events in the nation’s cultural calendar. Starting this year and building annually, National Trust, partners and communities nationally will be celebrating blossom through #BlossomWatch and sharing ideas for how people can get involved and connect with blossom wherever they are.
The project has been supported by a range of partners and political leaders.
Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, said: “I know from my time in Japan during the sakura season how beautiful cherry blossom can be. This is a fantastic example of how heritage organisations help make our neighbourhoods more beautiful and improve our physical and mental wellbeing.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said the capital’s garden would be a lasting, living memorial to commemorate all those who have lost their lives in the pandemic. “It will also be a tribute to the amazing ongoing work of our key workers and create a space for Londoners to contemplate and reflect on all this global pandemic has meant to our city and world,” he said.
National Trust blossom programme manager, Annie Reilly, added: “We will be working hard to ensure each space is designed to deliver something special in line with the individual needs of the local community. They might be large or small, intimate spaces; they will only become more beautiful over time as the trees root themselves in their surroundings, and we hope, into people’s daily lives.”