Picture: Tom MacCubbin
Where have your summer travels taken you? One stop we made recently was the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens at the very edge of Washington, D.C. located at 1900 Anacostia Drive. I knew it as Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens many years ago so that is what I still call this beautiful collection of ponds today.
Established in the 1880's, the gardens was a love of Walter B. Shaw a veteran of the Civil War. He purchased 30 acres of land to develop the series of ponds that entraps the tidal waters of the Anacostia River. Walter was from Maine and remembered the wonder water lilies of his home state and planted many of these favorite flowers to begin the gardens. What started out as a hobby became a business that also involved his daughter Helen Fowler Shaw. She collected aquatic plants from around the world and together they established W.B. Shaw Lily Ponds. The gardens was eventually purchased by Congress in 1938 and given to the National Park Service which provides education services for the many travelers and school children that visit each year.
Lotus plants fill many large ponds and were just past their peak for our visit. Still, the pink blooms were a wonder to see. How does a plant grow such big blooms in just a few short months? Plantings were also full of the familiar seed pots that look like showerheads.
Many ponds are full of water lilies. One pink one is said to be named for Walter’s daughter. Visitors are asked to see if they can spot it among the many white selections also planted. Located in small ponds near the visitor center are yellow and blue selections opening their beautiful blooms.
Plan to spend several hours in the gardens as there are many paths between the ponds and a boardwalk into Kenilworth Marsh. I you have time there is a river walk along the Anacostia River. Besides aquatic plants there were wetland mallows, red lobelia and many native trees and shrubs. There was even a banana plant on display and yes, it was fruiting. It is growing in a container for the winter and ushered outdoors for the warmer months.
You may never be sure where your travels are going to take you if you look for historic sites and beautiful gardens along the way. This is a great stop. Don’t let the bit rustic area keep you from driving into the gardens.