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Showing winter the door

Courtesy Biltmore Estate

Biltmore’s Festival of Flowers
Asheville, N.C.
For more than 20 years, the immense Biltmore Estate has celebrated the advent of spring with the Festival of Flowers, a six-week event that highlights the vision of founder George Vanderbilt and his chief garden designer.

“In general, we have the Festival of Flowers to celebrate the designs of Frederick Olmsted, who created the garden design for George Vanderbilt,” said LeeAnn Donnelly, senior public relations manager at the Biltmore Estate. “He had an idea to create a parklike setting for Mr. Vanderbilt. They also worked together to reforest the land.”

The festival opens each year over Easter weekend with an Easter egg hunt on the Biltmore lawn. But the real star of the show is the estate’s array of tulips. Gardeners plant more than 100,000 tulip bulbs throughout the grounds, treating visitors to a dazzling array of botanical colors.

“The walled garden, which is part of more than 80 acres of manicured gardens, is the real showstopper,” Donnelly said. “That’s where about 70,000 of those tulips are, and every year, the colors are different. This year, the hues will be red, pink, purple and white.”

In addition to tulips, the Festival of Flowers features daffodils, azaleas and other blooming plants. Flowers fill the inside of the estate as well, as gardeners pull blooms from the outdoor gardens and use them to decorate the home’s grand spaces, such as the main hall, the winter garden and the library.

During the run of the festival, visitors will find live music and other arts highlighted throughout the estate. Groups that come for the festival often include a tour of the mansion, as well as a visit to the farm, where animals give birth in spring, and the estate winery.

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Horse Farms and more
Lexington, Ky.
Beautiful blooming dogwoods and other flowers dot Lexington and central Kentucky throughout the spring, but it’s not just the flowers that make this a special season in the Bluegrass. Spring is the prime breeding period for the area’s booming Thoroughbred horse industry, and since horses have an 11-month gestation period, it’s also the time when horses give birth to new foals.

“Spring is really special here because you have the little babies in the fields,” said Niki Heichelbech, media communications manager at the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I never get tired of driving through and seeing them learn to stand up.”

Visiting groups have a variety of options for seeing young horses. At the Kentucky Horse Park, they can attend a mare and foal show, where handlers bring out adult horses and their new babies, some as young as three days old.

Many groups that visit the Bluegrass take tours of horse farms, where they can often see foals in the springtime. Additionally, some farms will give interested visitors an in-depth look at the breeding process or even let them visit the breeding barn and watch a breeding take place.

Travelers visiting Lexington during April should also make plans to visit Keeneland, the area’s premier Thoroughbred racetrack, during the spring meet. Races take place in the afternoon, accompanied by traditional Kentucky fanfare and pageantry.

In the mornings, groups can get a tour of the track and see trainers working out their horses before the day’s competitions.

“They have a program called ‘Breakfast with the Works,’” Heichelbech said. “You have breakfast there, and then they offer handicapping seminars and other elements to educate visitors about horseracing.”

National Cherry Blossom Festival
Washington, D.C.
One of the country’s biggest springtime events celebrates our bonds with a country that lies thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.

In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo gave a gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the city of Washington. That gift was first celebrated with a simple spring planting ceremony; since then, however, the National Cherry Blossom Festival has grown to become one of the most popular spring events in the United States.

The 16-day festival features thousands of blooming cherry trees throughout the nation’s capital, as well as many arts and cultural events that highlight Japanese culture and international brotherhood. More than 1 million people visit Washington for the celebration each year.

Because 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Tokyo’s initial gift, the festival organizers have expanded this year’s programming to span more than five weeks, from March 20 through April 27.

A star-studded opening ceremony will take place March 25, and later weekends bring the Blossom Kite Festival, the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. A Japanese street festival will take place in mid-April.

In addition to the blooming trees and festive gatherings, visitors will find touches of cherry blossom celebration at institutions around the city.

The National Gallery of Art will exhibit “Colorful Realm of Living Beings,” a 30-scroll set of paintings never seen outside of Japan. Other cultural highlights will include a Japanese music concert series and art exhibitions of rare Buddhist paintings.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.