Almond Joy

In Washington, D.C., the National Cherry Blossom Festival draws over a million visitors every March, generating $150 million for the region. In Macon, Georgia, they draw 300,000 people. Here in the City of Trees, we have a nutty idea for a festival of our own.
A Row of Almond Blossom Trees
Almond blossom orchards in full bloom in Clovis, California last year. (Photo by Richard Johnstone)

The Idea

There are two ways for cities to create attractions that draw big crowds. One is to come up with something incredibly new and unique that no other city has. But the best way is to play off the city’s inherent strengths and history.

Well, you already know that Sacramento is the City of Trees, but you may not know we also lay claim to the title of the Almond Capital of the World, thanks in part to locally based Blue Diamond, the world’s largest almond processor. So why not take two of our greatest civic legacies and combine them? Why not create an Almond Blossom Festival here? Little Ripon, California has one. So do Morocco and Sicily. And here’s why: Almond blossoms are nearly identical to cherry blossoms, the beautiful flowers that draw over 1.5 million visitors to Washington, D.C., every spring for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Both have pale pink or white five-petal blossoms and both bloom for a few weeks each year, producing spectacular natural scenery. According to UC horticulturalist Chuck Ingels, almond blossoms generally bloom in February for about two solid weeks, and sometimes longer.

How do we get started? First, we need a place to put a whole lot of almond trees (D.C. started with 3,000 in 1912). Imagine the world’s best cyclists racing down a Capitol Mall lined with brilliant white blossoms every February during the Tour of California. Or imagine tourists walking down K Street under a floral canopy. Or start with someplace that has no trees, yet: the massive Railyards project. Seth Taylor, the “plant doctor” at Capital Nursery in Sacramento, says they’re “pretty easy to take care of,” and that without actively pollinating the trees with bees (as is customary), they wouldn’t produce many pesky nuts, but would still bloom. Since planting adult trees would be cost-prohibitive, Taylor suggests starting with 2-year-old “bare root” trees that will blossom about a year after planted. Other cities augment their festivals with concerts, parades and street fairs to entertain the throngs.

Almond Blossom

The Players

There’s no shortage of tree enthusiasts in Sacramento and fortunately one of them wields a lot of clout. City Councilman Ray Tretheway is also the executive director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation. And his district covers downtown, including the aforementioned potential locations, making him the perfect champion for this project. Blue Diamond would be a natural partner, of course, both as a sponsor and cohost. Thomas Enterprises could be a potential partner if the trees end up in the Railyards. And we have one of the country’s greatest agricultural universities in UC Davis that could provide invaluable assistance.

The Bottom Line

Capital Nursery charges about $30 per “bare root” tree. So $90,000 would buy as many as D.C. started with; $114,000 would buy as many as they have now (3,800). It’s a minuscule investment for the potential payoff. Obviously there would be planting and maintenance costs as well, but that’s true with any trees. We might not yield the $150 million a year that D.C.’s festival brings in, but imagine if we pulled in even a fraction of that every February. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. In this case, we’d have to be bloomin’ nuts not to.