Project: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (2010)

First discovered by Europeans in the depths of the Amazon in 1801, the famous giant Victoria Regia (Victoria amazonica) now graces a pond at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

In 2010, I researched and wrote a report on Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens: one of Washington, DC’s best kept secrets and most wondrous sites.  Walter B. Shaw, a Civil War veteran from Maine, began planting water lilies here in the early 1880s.  By the early twentieth century, what had started out as one small pond had become a nine-acre, booming business in aquatic products, including lilies, lotus, fish and other aquatic plants.  In addition to growing a variety of water lilies, he successfully created a number of his own hybrids, as well.  His daughter, Helen Shaw Fowler, continued his work after his death and came out with a number of her own successful hybrid varieties.  The property was acquired by the federal government in 1938, and became a National Park Service site in 1939.

Two hardy water lilies peak out from a sea of floating algae in one of the park’s display pools.

Today, the gardens are a favorite among bird-watchers and other observers of wildlife; an unexpected, delightful corner of nature in the heart of Washington DC!  Wild egrets, king fishers, turtles, butterflies, frogs, blue heron, muskrats and even beaver make their home here, only a few steps from the urban bustle of Kenilworth, northeast DC.  A wide variety of water lilies, both tropical and hardy, as well as exotic Egyptian, Japanese and American lotus are grown here.  The best time to enjoy the blooms is June through September, but the tranquil ponds and adjacent marsh are a peaceful oasis no matter what time of year you visit!  The site is located about two minutes south of Route 50 east, just after it crosses over the Anacostia River.  Follow signs from Kenilworth Avenue to the gardens.

One of the gardens’ many Indian lotus plants (Nelumbium nucifera) produces a bloom almost a foot in diameter: a tropical giant with an almost prehistoric appearance. 1,000-year-old seeds found in southern Manchuria in 1951 were successfully germinated in Kenilworth the following year, and still grow at the gardens today.

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