Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Washington DC

Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens DC

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.

Flowers at the Kenilworth Garden Aquatic Festival in 2016
Flowers at the Kenilworth Gardens Aquatic Festival; NPS Photo

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.

Lotus Pond

One of the highlights of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is the Lotus Pond, a mesmerizing sight that comes alive during the summer months. Thousands of lotus flowers bloom, transforming the pond into a dreamlike scene straight out of a fairytale. The delicate petals and intricate details of the lotus flowers are a sight to behold and provide ample opportunities for photographers to capture breathtaking shots.

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.

Lotus Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Lotus Pond, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens by NPS Park Cultural Landscapes Program

The lotus flowers, known for their symbolic significance in various cultures, create a mesmerizing display of vibrant colors and intricate petals. Their graceful presence adds a touch of elegance to the surrounding water gardens, creating a scene straight out of a fairytale.

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. Don’t be afraid to venture off the main trails and explore the hidden corners of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. These lesser-known paths offer a sense of discovery and adventure, allowing you to forge your own unique journey through this hidden garden paradise.

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 Year’s 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.

Events at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Each season brings its own unique highlights and events that make visiting this tranquil oasis an unforgettable experience.

In spring, the aquatic gardens burst into a riot of colors as thousands of lotus and water lilies bloom. The sight of these vibrant flowers floating gracefully on the surface of the ponds is truly mesmerizing. The delicate fragrance fills the air, creating a sensory experience like no other. This is the perfect time to visit if you want to witness the gardens in full bloom and capture stunning photographs.

As summer arrives, the focus shifts to the lush green foliage and the diverse wildlife that calls the gardens home. The tranquil ponds become a haven for a variety of bird species, including herons, egrets, and ducks. Birdwatchers will be in awe as they spot these elegant creatures gliding through the water or perched on the blooming lotus leaves. The gardens also host guided birdwatching tours during this time, allowing visitors to learn more about the fascinating avian residents.

Autumn brings a picturesque transformation to the gardens as the foliage turns into vibrant shades of red, orange, and golden yellow. The reflection of these warm hues on the water creates a stunning visual spectacle. This season is perfect for nature walks and leisurely strolls along the garden’s paths, immersing oneself in the peaceful atmosphere and capturing the beauty of nature’s changing palette.

Winter unveils a different side of the gardens, with the bare branches and frost-covered landscape creating a serene and ethereal ambiance. The stillness of the ponds and the quietness of the surroundings offer a unique opportunity for reflection and contemplation. Visitors can also participate in winter photography workshops and learn how to capture the gardens’ winter beauty through their lenses.

Throughout the year, the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens hosts various events and activities, such as educational workshops, gardening demonstrations, and art exhibitions. These events provide a deeper understanding of the gardens’ ecological significance and offer opportunities for visitors to engage with the natural world in meaningful ways.

Planning your visit

Planning your visit to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is essential to ensure you have a truly memorable experience exploring this hidden beauty. Here are some tips and recommendations to help you make the most of your visit.

  • Timing is everything: The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens offer different sights and experiences depending on the time of year. The lotus and water lilies are in full bloom during the summer months, creating a stunning and vibrant display of colors. If you want to witness this breathtaking sight, plan your visit between June and August. However, if you prefer a quieter and more serene atmosphere, consider visiting during the spring or fall when the crowds are smaller, and the scenery is equally enchanting.
  • Dress comfortably: Exploring the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens involves walking along serene pathways and boardwalks, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes. Additionally, dress appropriately for the weather and consider bringing sun protection, such as hats and sunscreen, during the summer months.
  • Bring your camera: The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens offer countless opportunities for capturing stunning photographs. From the vibrant lotus flowers to the delicate water lilies, you’ll want to have your camera or smartphone ready to capture the natural beauty around you. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries or a portable charger to ensure you don’t miss any photo-worthy moments.
  • Take your time: The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens span over 700 acres, and there is so much to see and explore. Plan to spend at least a few hours here to fully immerse yourself in the tranquility and natural beauty of the gardens. Take leisurely walks, pause at the various ponds and pools, and admire the diverse aquatic plant life that surrounds you.
  • Attend a guided tour or event: To enhance your experience and learn more about the history and significance of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, consider joining a guided tour or attending one of the many events and workshops offered throughout the year. These opportunities will provide you with insights and knowledge that will deepen your appreciation for this hidden gem.

Final Word

We hope you enjoyed our blog post about exploring the hidden beauty of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. This serene and enchanting place is a hidden gem nestled within the bustling cityscape. By venturing into the gardens, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a world of vibrant colors, delicate flowers, and diverse aquatic life. Take the time to wander through the lush landscapes, capture breathtaking photographs, and connect with nature in a unique way. The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is truly a treasure waiting to be discovered, and we encourage you to embark on this unforgettable journey of beauty and tranquility.

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