Located on 14 acres along the east bank of the Anacostia River, you will find the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. It is the only National Park that is devoted to the propagation and display of aquatic plants, and its history is one of great significance to the botanical study and development of water plants.
Originally the gardens were a hobby for Civil War veteran W.B. Shaw. With a few water lilies from his home state of Maine and a single pond, he started his venture. As the plants thrived, he dug more ponds and experimented more in developing hybrid lilies.
In 1921, Helen Shaw Folwer (W.B.’s daughter) agreed to allow public viewing of the lilies one day a week during the blooming season. It’s estimated that up to 6,000 people per day lined up to see lilies growing in their natural state. Frequent visitors to the gardens included Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, and President and Mrs. Wilson.
The gardens ceased commercial operation in 1938, although they remain essentially unchanged. The site is now part of the National Park system, is included in the National Register of Historic Places, and is part of the landmarks of the National Capital.
Today, the Aquatic Gardens, Kenilworth Marsh, and Kenilworth Park take up 700 acres. The larger park site also includes ball fields and recreational facilities.
On a recent summer visit, the water lilies and lotus were in bloom and were stunningly beautiful! Visit early in the day to get the best view of the blooms, because when the temperature nears 90, they close up. You can also see birds, frogs, turtles, butterflies, and dragonflies.
The gardens cover approximately 12 acres of open ponds, so if you’re bringing children, be sure to keep a close eye on them so they don’t fall into the ponds. It’s an easy walk around the grounds, but if the temperatures are soaring, you may want to bring a water bottle with you. Also, if there’s been a recent rainstorm, the ground will be muddy, and the edges of the pond, soft.
Late May through September is the best time for viewing the flowering aquatic plants, so it’s still not too late to see these beauties.
There’s a lot to see at the Aquatic Gardens, and no matter the time of year be sure to bring your camera. In the spring, wildflowers bloom in the surrounding Kenilworth Marsh, Fall brings in spectacular foliage, and Winter is the best time for watching wildlife and birding.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are located at 1550 Anacostia Avenue N.E., and are open from 7 am-4 pm daily, excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. The Gardens are not near a Metro station, and driving there can be a little tricky, so I’d recommend mapping it out before leaving home.
The time needed to see the Gardens will depend on the season, time of day, and temperature. I spent a couple of hours there, not only looking at the flowers but also trying to learn how to take better photos. The water lily photos represent my best efforts for the day. I’ll keep working on it.