Fans of Linnea in Monet’s Garden will want to visit Kenilworth National Park and Aquatic Gardens, an oasis situated in the heart of Anacostia. This 12-acre park is the only National Park dedicated exclusively to cultivating water-loving plants. It was founded by Civil War veteran Walter B. Shaw, who transplanted wild water lilies from Maine to an unused ice pond in Anacostia. In 1938, Congress purchased the gardens.
You enter the park, through a shady path with a water fountain. You have two choices — ponds and boardwalk or Marsh River Trail. We chose the ponds and boardwalk and enjoyed seeing over 45 ponds with pink and white hardy water lilies. Tropical water lilies bloom late July through early fall. Lotuses bloom in mid-summer and have seed pods that look like shower heads.
We heard the croaking of frogs but could not spot any. Beautiful dragonflies flew around. The highlight of our visit was our walk on the boardwalk, where we saw two geese families with baby goslings swimming in straight lines.
There are a number of picnic tables and bugs are not a problem. However, watch out for the poison ivy. There is one bench on the far side of the garden has a bench totally surrounded by poison ivy.
My 7 year-old loved the outing and so did we. We had visited for ideas on starting our own water garden. While the beauty of the ponds were inspiring, there was no signage at all. However, the Visitor Center and Bookstore had a few handouts and plenty of books for sale. There was also a nice selection of kids books, Dover books, puzzles, and games. The extremely helpful ranger gave our daughter a Junior Ranger Activity Book, which has information on the gardens and games.
The Visitor Center has a cute little table with stools that look like lily pads for kids with a mural backdrop. There are also panels that tell about the history of the gardens and the differences between water lilies and lotuses. An adjoining room has a permanent display of watercolors by Shaw’s daughter Helen Fowler.
Just the ponds and boardwalk took about an hour. We decided to leave the 1/2 mile Wetlands Trail and roughly 1 1/2 mile River Trail for another visit.
Things to Note
- Admission is free.
- Grounds are open 7am to 6:30pm daily between Labor and Memorial Day.
- The Visitor Center is open from 9am to 5pm; bookstore from 9am to 3:30pm.
- Parking is free and ample.
- Restrooms in building adjacent to Visitor Center. No changing tables. Water fountains at entrance and near restrooms. Bottled water is for sale in Visitor Center. Only fast food restaurants are available nearby. Picnic instead.