Washington, DC is a surprisingly good spot for green spaces. From Rock Creek Park to the Capital Crescent Trail, our city has many natural havens. But one of the best and least known of these spots is hidden in Anacostia—Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.
Kenilworth, located on the banks of the Anacostia River, is a 14-acre set of gardens adjacent to 77 acres of marshland. The park is best known for its unique water lilies, lotuses, and other flowering plants on the garden ponds.
It also has a restored tidal marsh, one of the city’s last tidal wetlands. A boardwalk out into the marsh provides a glimpse into the unique habitat—on my visit, I saw an osprey with a large fish in its talons alight on a branch across the marsh.
Kenilworth in managed by the National Park Service and therefore has excellent visitor outreach such as a small visitor’s center and binoculars available for loan. It also provides garden tours and opens early every morning at 7am for birders. And you’ll be sure to see some interesting avians—I caught a glimpse of a brilliant orchard oriole on my walk.
The history of the gardens dates back to 1882, when Civil War veteran W.B. Shaw decided to use his farmland to create a series of water ponds and gardens. After his death in 1921, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers threatened to dredge the gardens to deal with the silt that had filled the Anacostia River, but Shaw’s daughter formed a citizen’s activist group that saved the site. She also convinced Congress to buy the gardens for $15,000, which the National Park Service acquired in 1938. Since then, it has been essentially unchanged.
Kenilworth has different attractions for the different seasons. As its website says: “Spring is the best season for wildflowers in the marsh that borders the athletic fields and gardens. Summer is the season for the Aquatic Gardens. Winter, when leaves are off the trees, is the best time for birding at any of the sites. “
One of the best things about Kenilworth is that it is metro accessible. From the Deanwood metro station, it’s about a 10 minute walk to the park entrance. It’s a special place in our city that is definitely worth losing yourself in for a few hours. Bring your horticulture knowledge and a birding guide and you’ll forget that the city and highway 295 are less than a mile away.
To visit: 1550 Anacostia Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20019. Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Metro accessible via the Deanwood station. The park is also accessible from the back on the river with a canoe or kayak. Free to visit.