EDonaldson Header


Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Landscape History


Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is one of Washington, DC's best kept secrets, and one of the most wonderful sites in the National Park Service system.  In the early 1880s Walter B. Shaw, a Civil War veteran from Vinalhaven, Maine, began planting water lilies in an abandoned ice pond on his property down by the muddy banks of the Anacostia River.  By the early twentieth century, what had started out as one small pond and a few lilies had become a nine-acre, booming business in a range of aquatic products including lilies, lotus, fish, and other aquatic plants.  Over the years Shaw experimented in water lily hybridization, creating a number of his own hybrid varieties.  His daughter, Helen Shaw Fowler, continued his work after his death and created a number of her own successful hybrids that are still popular among aquatic gardeners today.  Fowler began peddling lilies around the city in 1912, and was the first woman in Washington to have a commercial truck driving license.  The property was acquired by the federal government in 1938, and became a National Park Service site in 1939.

Today the gardens are a rare treat at any time of year, although the most water lilies and lotus blooms can be enjoyed in July and August.  A variety of water lilies, both tropical and hardy, grow here in addition to Egyptian, Japanese and American lotus.  During the winter the tropical plants go into "hibernation" in the historic greenhouses next to the ponds, while the hardy water lilies disappear beneath the ripples until the following spring.  For bird-watchers, walkers and picnickers alike, this site is a favorite refuge; an unexpected, delightful corner of nature in the heart of Washington, DC!  Wild egrets, kingfishers, 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.  Best reached by car but also accessible by bus, the site is located about two minutes south of Route 50 east, off the Kenilworth Avenue exit just after it crosses over the Anacostia River.  Follow signs from Kenilworth Avenue to the gardens.    
Additional information and images can be found at the NPS Cultural Landscapes page for Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, here.