Thursday, July 19, 2007

Kenilworth's Lilies Near Their Peak

This week the Washington Post ran an article about one of Washington's hidden treasures, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Kenilworth is the only site in the National Park Service that is dedicated to the propagation and display of aquatic plants. As such, it is a unique resource, but one that few DC residents seem to know about. The article describes the park's site and origins:

The gardens are nestled between the Anacostia River and the Anacostia Freeway, just south of New York Avenue traffic that drones like a guilty conscience. They're the creation of a one-armed Civil War veteran. Walter B. Shaw, who in the 1880s worked as a clerk at the U.S. Treasury Department, bought 30 acres along the Anacostia and planted a few wild waterlilies in an unused ice pond. Soon, he and his daughter were importing lilies from the Orient, Nile and South America and developing varieties. After the ugliness of war, he created a life of beauty.

By the 1920s, thousands of visitors were regularly stopping by to see the waxy blossoms and wide saucerlike lily pads. In 1938, the federal government bought the land and turned it into a park, preserved to this day pretty much as it was. It's a refuge for birders and weekend photographers, wetlands aficionados and college students who periodically come to study.
Aside from its spectacular aquatic plants, Kenilworth is also home to many bird species, which make it a DC hotspot. (I have written about bird walks in Kenilworth several times on this blog.) The Post reporter was impressed by the bird life she encountered:
Life and beauty teem here. Frequent summertime bird sightings include great blue herons and chimney swifts, Eastern phoebes and indigo buntings, song sparrows and gnatcatchers. Enter the gardens by foot, and the air both stills and turns loud: City sounds dim. Insects chirr and fiddle. Songbirds are a symphony. The resident beaver has dug a channel across the river to his dam.

Surely, paradise is like this, visitors must think.
I know that feeling of tranquility very well. While you are in those gardens, it is easy to forget that you are in a major city.

Summer tends to be a slow period for birding at the gardens; I generally find winter and spring to be the best for finding birds. However, this is a great time of year to visit (despite the heat) because the gardens will be at their peak blooming stage. This Saturday the Aquatic Gardens is holding its annual Waterlily and Founders Day Festival from 11-2. The event will be preceded by a DC Audubon bird walk at 8 am. For more details, see here.