Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

At first glance, it would be easy to say that the neighborhoods that you pass on your way to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are not the best in DC. Then again, can your backyard live up to this?

Over 100 years ago, Walter Shaw (not to be confused with the DC neighborhood's namesake Colonel Robert Gould Shaw or Charles Shaw of "Two Buck Chuck" fame) cultivated aquatic gardens featuring water lilies that he brought from Maine. Today, thanks to the National Park Service, Shaw's gardens are an urban oasis more reminiscent of Monet's Giverny than the Anacostia neighborhood it resides in.

Spring - if not summer - is here, and I cannot imagine a better time to visit the gardens. But as the days go from hot to hotter, make sure you plan on arriving early. Be warned, fair-weather Californians aren't the only ones who shy away from sweltering days in the sun; the lilies will close once things get too hot. In addition to being more temperate, early morning strolls at the gardens are quiet and peaceful... and often solitary. J and I arrived for the 9am ranger tour and ended up with a 1-hour private tour of the grounds with a knowledgeable and engaging host. Once again, I feel obliged to point out what an underutilized resource National Park rangers are.

Spring is also that time when the lilies are in bloom and when newborns are discovering the world. From 6 week old Canadian geese...

to nickel-sized turtles sunbathing on lily pads.

But as we were reminded on our tour, the gardens are more than the lilies. Don't forget to take in the beautiful wildflowers and local vegetation.

And perhaps the best surprise of all... a swamp with very few mosquitoes! According to our ranger, there are enough predators to keep the blood-sucking pests away so that your only encounters with insects are in the form of butterflies and dragonflies.

Just another hidden part of our city that makes it so much fun to explore... the quintessential diamond in the rough.

J Says

I was a bit skeptical as we drove past a giant razor fence into the parking lot. However, one look at the lily pond and I squealed "Monet!" My only prior experience with water lilies was at a very snooze-worthy talk on Monet's gardens at the Smithsonian. Little did I know that instead of seeing blurry photos of Giverny on a projector, I could travel 15 minutes from my house and see the lilies in bloom.

I'm glad we woke up early to see the gardens in their sleepy state before the blazing sun imposed its wrath. As our personal tour guide explained, the gardens change so much throughout the day and throughout the year that no two visits are the same. There are countless ways to enjoy the gardens: with your dog (on a leash), via canoe, or with a picnic lunch as bloggers I Flip for Food demonstrated this past weekend.

Anacostia may not be Giverny, but it sure is a whole lot easier to get to!


iEatDC said...

We went last summer for the first time. So beautiful! http://bit.ly/crGxjc

Angela said...

Ooh, you are so much smarter than we were - we went in the afternoon, and while we had a wonderful time, it was WAY too hot, and I think most of the flowers were hiding. Your photos are gorgeous, and make me think I need to schedule a return trip when it's a little cooler.

blunoz said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for pointing out this hidden gem. I had no idea this place existed until I read your blog post. I took my family there on Saturday and we enjoyed it tremendously. I wrote about it here.