by Stephanie Smith
August 04, 2017
Chelcey Nordstrom, an interpretive ranger at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Washington, D.C., points out double lotus flowers—which have twice as many petals as regular lotus flowers—during a tour of the gardens on July 17. Each summer, the park’s sea of pink lotus flowers blooms from June through mid-August, reaching peak bloom in July.
Located along the Anacostia River, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is the only national park dedicated to growing aquatic plants. Although the quiet urban oasis is under-visited for much of the year, the park’s annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival can draw as many as 3,000 visitors on a single day.
The park’s iconic flowers date back to the 1880s, when Civil War veteran Walter Shaw bought a small parcel of land on the banks of the Anacostia. Feeling nostalgic for his previous home in Maine, Shaw brought with him a collection of wild water lilies to be planted at his new family home. What began as a hobby soon grew into a business, and in 1912, Shaw established W.B. Shaw Lily Ponds to sell his plants and blooms. The site quickly became renowned for its beauty, attracting visitors like U.S. presidents and foreign dignitaries.
By the late 1930s, dredging along the Anacostia River threatened to destroy the gardens. Helen Shaw Fowler—Walter Shaw’s daughter, who then owned and managed the property—was given notice that her land would be condemned. But Fowler fought for to preserve the property: in 1938, her gardens were purchased by the National Park Service, which still manages the land today.
Learn more about Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.