Water Lilies in Washington: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Would you like to be carried away from the hot cement and marble of a DC summer, all within city limits? Wake up early enough for an 8 AM stroll among water lilies and lotus colonies at the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, one of DC’s most delectable hidden treasures. A patchwork of ponds give way to a two-acre marsh, the last remnants of the marshlands drained to build Washington, alongside the banks of the Anacostia River.

First glimpses of Kenilworth Aquatic Garden

Don’t rush. Give this place a little time to seep into you. I was disappointed at first by what looked like chaos of leaves, with only a modest sprinkling of petals and little shade.

Waterlilies in bloom at Kenilworth Aquatic Garden, Washington, DC

Gradually, though, a wave of calm came over me. We walked on, and I started to notice more blooms, peeking shyly from still, muddy water, and all the life surrounding them: birds, turtles, frogs, butterflies, and dragonflies–so many dragonflies!

Waterlilies of Kenilworth Aquatic Garden

Blue dasher dragonfly, Kenilworth Aquatic Garden

A blue dasher dragonfly–there were legions of them buzzing around

Then, the lotus ponds came into view. In early June, flowers were few (come in July for the best display). Still, what a stunning sight! Elephantine leaves, delicate buds rising above them like chiseled spades, already opened flowers with their gentle shades of pink, cream, and yellow, and the surreal seed pods–entrancing.

First lotus blooms of the year, Kenilworth Aquatic Garden, Washington, DC

The first (East Indian) lotus blooms of the year: Kenilworth’s lotus flowers were germinated from an ancient seed found in 1951 in a dry lakebed in northeastern China

Lotus pod, Kenilworth Aquatic Garden, Washington, DC

Leaving the ponds behind, continue on the raised boardwalk, meandering into the marsh and to a birder’s paradise: herons wade, ospreys soar, and red-winged blackbirds perch on cattails.

Red-winged blackbird, Kenilworth Aquatic Garden, Washington, DC

Each year, on the third Saturday of July, when the lotus blooms are at their peak, Kenilworth holds the Lotus and Water Lily Festival. Then, in August, the giant Amazon water lilies make a brief appearance. This year, I will finally get to see them.

Visiting the garden is free. The grounds open at 7 am every day, and it is best to come early: the ponds’ blooms close up as the heat settles.

Goslings running after their parents at Kenilworth Aquatic Garden, Washington, DC

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