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Panic at the Botanic! With festival still a week off, cherry blossoms are fading

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden will host the greatest and most colorful cherry celebration in the nation next weekend, but there’s a major problem — the blossoms are wilting!

A full two weekends before the annual Sakura Matsuri festival — a Japanese-themed “rite of passage” into spring — the Garden’s signature cherry trees looked great, their light pink blossoms in full bloom.

But that small, perfect window when the Kwanzan trees are picture perfect will be long closed by the May 1 event. And the rest of the Garden’s vast array of species have already had their cherry blossoms popped.

“I’m literally panicking for them about the timing of the festival,” said a landscape architect who refused to give her name because she occasionally works with the Crown Heights hothouse. The architect was in the Garden on Sunday and liked what she saw — until she looked at the calendar.

“These buds look beautiful now, but they won’t be perfect by May 1,” she said. “It’s a shame. They guessed wrong.”

Perhaps, but the fault lies not with the Garden’s bud pickers, but with the rigors of putting on the most-important cherry blossom festival this side of the Potomac, with participants coming from as far away as Japan and Manhattan.

Because there’s so much planning involved, Botanic Garden officials select the date for the next year’s Sakura Matsuri right at the close of the current event. The selection of May 1 and 2 was actually made last spring.

Beyond that, the Garden merely hopes for the best — and Mother Nature has proven to be an unreliable ally. If the spring air gets too hot too soon, the trees blossom early; too cold and you can kiss that sweet walk through the petals goodbye. This year, there was rain, warmth and chill — not a good combination.

“We’re losing petals,” said Mark Fisher, director of horticulture for the Garden. “But that’s just what Mother Nature chose.”

The good news, Fisher added, is that the Festival is fun whether the cherries are in full bloom or if the trees are completely denuded.

Indeed, the two-day festival includes more than 60 events, including music, food and children’s events.

But some folks can’t get over those wilting Kwanzans.

“Seeing how nice it looks now, I question what will be left for the celebration,” said Crown Heights resident Ben Rubin on Sunday. “I’m worried for myself, for my family, for the garden and for the reputation of our borough.”

Then again, some cherry blossom fans think the hysteria is misguided.

“Look, anyone who actually cares about whether the buds will be ‘perfect’ or ‘just miss their peak’ is missing the point of Sakura Matsuri,” said Phil Marriott of Park Slope. “The whole thing is a Zen exercise, so to try to predict perfection is a violation of that spirit. It’s like catching the perfect wave in Maui.”

Sakura Matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden [1000 Washington Ave. at Montgomery Street in Crown Heights, (718) 623-7200]. Activities on May 1 and 2 begin at 10 am. Free for members. For info, visit www.bbg.org.

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