Trees past their prime, but festival in full bloom

Beneath the cherry trees in Wooster Square Park on Sunday afternoon, squealing children chased after bubbles, dogs barked with excitement and a steel-drum band filled the park with jingling melodies. But there was a major drawback: The cherry trees were not in bloom.

The 37th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival was in full swing at the park, celebrating the blooming of the 72 Yoshino cherry trees planted in 1973 on the perimeter of the park. The early bloom of the trees this year, which left the trees green but without flowers, parallels the national average for this year, according to the National Cherry Blossom Festival website.

“Historically, the third Sunday in April is the perfect timing for cherry blossoms,” said Rosemaire Conforti, chairperson of the festival. “But this year they were about two weeks to 10 days early.”

Though the fallen petals littered the ground and the overcast weather threatened rain all afternoon, the sun occasionally broke out, shining light on the green branches bordering the park.

The festival, which had only one band and two food vendors when it first began, has expanded to include nine vendors, three bands and hundreds of visitors. In addition to the bands and food options, local artists, cultural and religious societies also had stands at the festival this year.

“I always want to be involved with anything going on for the benefit of the square,” said local mixed-media collagist Tristan Blakeman, who showcased a few of his designs at the festival.

Theresa Argento, president of the St. Andrew’s Ladies Society and a long-time attendee of the festival, had laid out more than a hundred pieces of memorabilia — old newspaper clippings, photographs, awards, calendars — from her society and six other New Haven Catholic societies. Argento said she started collecting 62 years ago and has been displaying a small portion of her sizable collection on display at the festival ever since it first began.

“I enjoy people coming by, and they’ll spot their grandmother in a picture and say, ‘Oh, there’s grandmother!’ ” Argento said. “It’s nice to see that they all love to see the exhibit.”

Local favorites such as the Caseus Cheese truck and Elm City Kettle Corn Company served the visitors overflowing the park. But animals were not left out, either. Linda Patenaude, a chef for Davenport College, had a stand of Best Buddy Biscuits, a brand of all-natural dog treats that she created with her husband. Her stand served samples for tasting, as well as bags for purchase. Patenaude said she had to keep warning people that the biscuits are for dogs.

First-time attendee Andreas Schneider, a surgical resident at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, said the spirit of the event reminded him of his hometown in Germany. His wife, Katja, added that they usually walks through the park on their way to the playground with their children.

New Haven resident Doug Moser said events like these bring locals together.

“It’s great, it’s nice to see the neighborhood together,” Moser said. “I like the steel band. And Michael Jackson played by a steel band — really how much better can it get?”

No other flowering trees besides cherries can be planted in the park, in order to spotlight the cherry blossoms, Conforti said.

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