Patricia Morse has been waiting eight years for this moment.
Like many Chicagoans, Morse, 68, of Hyde Park, was entranced when she heard that the region’s largest single collection of cherry trees would be planted on the banks of the Columbia Basin, just south of the Museum of Science and Industry. Morse, a gardener and wildflower expert for the Hyde Park Garden Fair, started visiting the site every spring, hoping to see the first frothy pink and white sea of whisper-thin petals.
She waited in 2019, when conditions seemed perfect, but the blooms stalled. She waited last year, when there were so few blossoms that she had to photograph branches at strategic angles.
And now, the wait is over.
Two warm days last week thrust the trees into early bloom, and now the trees are near their peak, according to Morse, a member of the Jackson Park Advisory Council.
“You’re just surrounded by the blossoms,” said Morse. “When else are you surrounded by that kind of beauty?”
Morse said Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry counted 3,000 viewers Sunday.
Beginning in 2013, the nonprofit Project 120 and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago planted the 160 trees in Jackson Park to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the 1893 World’s Fair and the 50th anniversary of JCCC (in 2016).
The trees were planted specifically for hanami, or the traditional Japanese practice of cherry-blossom viewing, Chicago Park District Operations Support Manager Karen Szyjka told the Tribune in 2019.
Morse said she learned about Japanese cherry blossom viewing as an elementary school student in the 1950s and still remembers the traditional Japanese song “Sakura, Sakura” (”Cherry Blossom, Cherry Blossom”), which celebrates the blossoms as symbols of renewal.
The Columbia Basin cherry blossoms, expected in late April or May, came early this year.
“Every day I’ve been going down, and the two days of really warm weather (last week), basically forced all the trees to come out at once,” Morse said.
Now, some of the petals are dropping, but there are still clouds of intact blossoms to walk through.
Asked if she sang “Sakura, Sakura” during one of her visits, Morse laughed.
“In my head,” she said.