4 min read

Tree Party

Photo of elaborate place settings on table with pink fuschia napkins, fruit, white cake, and tea cookies.
2012 Tree Party afternoon seating for eight

A Young Tree Discovery

In August of 1974, when I first bought a small 1918’s bungalow in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, a small tree was growing just outside the large picture window on the west side of the house. After closer investigation, I noticed some fat, pale green buds—with delicate, furry-looking coats—nestled among the leaves near the top branches. But I had no idea what kind of tree it was.

Then, the following spring, it bloomed.

Armed with a few photos of the tree’s ethereal and magical blossoms, I sought out identifying information at a local plant nursery and found out that the tree was a pink magnolia soulangeana, a vigorous hybrid that can grow to nearly 40 feet in the right setting.

Every spring for the next twenty-five years I watched the tree grow larger. When I learned that the annual display and celebratory viewing of cherry blossoms in Japan was a much-anticipated tradition that reached back hundreds of years, I decided to replicate a version of these festivities at my own home, to communally honor the blooming of my magnolia tree. The Queen Anne Tree Party was born, and from 2000 through 2018, my tree became an Honored Queen.

The Japanese revelers pictured in the photo below were my inspiration:

Photo of Japanese revelers sitting at low red-covered tables underneath cherry trees filled with blossoms

In Japan, flowering cherry blossoms are called “sakura”, and the blooms usually peak at the start of April. “Hanami” is the Japanese word for the tradition of viewing and revering cherry blossoms. This custom is centuries old, dating back to the Nara period around 710 AD. 

To celebrate and honor the sakura, the Japanese spread out their picnics under the cherry trees from morning through evening, as they contemplate cherry blossom beauty while enjoying festive foods and beverages. And since the blossoms only hold their blooms for a couple of weeks, as a result they have become symbols of renewal and the fleeting nature of life. My magnolia tree parties were an extension of this same philosophy.

Photo of people under large cherry trees in blossom on green quadrangle.
Cherry blossoms on the Universithy of Washington quad (Becky Chan)

The annual cherry blossom festivities in Japan also inspired the writing of countless haiku—a uniquely Japanese poetry form that penetrates to the interior essence of any experience in only three lines.

The haiku poem shown below, by a little known, nineteenth century female poet, sums up the spirit of hanami:

“When the cherry blossoms bloomed,
they brought beauty to my heart.”

     from The Moon in the Pines—Zen Haiku, by Jonathan Clements

Image of 6-paneled gold screen with cherry tree on right and blossoms on the branches which also hold long poem slips
”Flowering Cherry with Poem Slips”, by Tosa Mitsuoki, Edo Period, c.1675

The Tree Party photo gallery below features highlights taken from my magnolia tree parties in years past, each one reflecting a new celebratory homage to the original Japanese tradition.  An array of guests from age 7 to 70 arrived each spring to enjoy good company, food, laughter, live music, a spring dance, a nice glass of something bubbly, a live poetry reading, and to top it off—a slice of special cake.

If you have a beautiful, flowering tree on your property, try to host your own tree viewing party when the blossoms open. If you do not have a tree of your own, there are public parks and arboretums that would welcome respectful viewers. You just need a blanket and a picnic basket. Good luck and enjoy your spring!

Image of Tree Party invitation: "It's Time for the Bunny Hop", with close-up photo of magnolia
Photo of magnolia tree in full bloom in front of 2 houses, with shrubs in front
Queen Magnolia Tree in spring glory
Photo of large group of women standing on sidewalk
Honored guests await the beginning of Tree Party festivities
Photo of two women wit violins stand in front of house with magnolia in bloom, with group of women in the foreground
Welcoming guests before the live music processional
Photo of young girl in front of mother reading start of processional, with  mangolia and house in background
Our youngest guest announces the processional
Photo of 4 women playing instruments walking down stairs with magnolia and house in background
The official celebration begins
Photo of four women with instruments, singing, in front of steps with magnolia branch in foreground
Visiting guests from Spain offer musical gifts
Photo of line of women dancing up the stairs, with magnolia branch in left foreground
Aranka leads the Bunny Hop!
(left) Photo of Sandra holding a raised champagne glass on porch in front of magnolia; (right) Photo of buffet table with appetizers and vase of flowers in front of window
Sandra offers the first bubbly toast to Queen Magnolia before the second round of appetizers

The Tree Party Poetry Reading

An abundance of original or published Spring poems were presented each year—with the blooming tree just outside the front windows.

Two photos of women reading poetry inside a house
(left) Ann reads her original poem; (right) Sandra reads Mary Oliver
Diptych image with varieties of magnolia blossoms on left and poem about a magnolia tree by a 7-year old girl on right

Photo of sheet cake with tree design frosting
And after the poetry—the Tree cake!


Image of three thank-you notes from party attendees agains a rose background with ornamental blossoms

Image of painting of bird on branch of magnolia blossoms
Our celebration of renewal and the fleeting nature of life is now completed, to return next Spring.
Photo of magnolia tree in full bloom at night, with Venus in the background sky
Queen of the Night with Venus (Anastasia Shatokhina)