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AQUA_190903_030.JPG: Beauty and Business
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
"Beauty cannot be purchased, it must be created."
-- Helen Shaw Fowler
Welcome to these aquatic gardens -- transcend the busy streets and embrace the unique beauty, peace and natural rhythm to be found here.
The pond area today looks much as it did during the early 20th century when it was operating as one of the largest aquatic plant business in the nation.
Shaw Gardens was started in the 1880s by Civil War veteran Walter B. Shaw. The water gardens blended plant sales with aesthetic beauty. After 1912, Shaw's daughter Helen led the company. Together, family members and hired laborers dug ponds, planted, nurtured, and harvested aquatic plants.
Along with being available for purchase by local residents, plants shipments were sent every week to New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.
A Floral Experience in Washington, D.C.
Thousands of blooming flowers drew hundreds of Washingtonians to these aquatic gardens on summer weekends during the early 1900s.
Visitors came from all walks of life and included government officials, plant lovers and those who just wanted to picnic for an afternoon.
President Woodrow Wilson and his wife, as well as First Ladies Florence Harding and Grace Coolidge frequented the gardens and became friends with the Shaw family.
In 1938, as Washington Post reporter wrote:
"The ponds are separated by dikes with grassy paths, shaded by large trees making a picture of satisfying beauty.
Acres of blooms reach away in all directions, the surface of the water almost entirely with foliage and blossoms of white, pink, rose, crimson and blue. . ."
AQUA_190903_074.JPG: Euryale ferox
AQUA_190903_092.JPG: Nymphaea caerulea
AQUA_190903_106.JPG: Nuphar advena
AQUA_190903_136.JPG: Victoria amazonica
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Of all the water lilies grown at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the Victoria amazonica (formerly named Victoria regia), Victoria cruziana, and the hybrid, Victoria 'longwood' are among the most popular.
These lilies are night-blooming. Flowers grow to over 12 inches wide and bloom in early September. In their native South America, the lily pads may grow and inch per hour and reach up to eight feet in diameter. Here, the pads typically grow as large as four to six feet.
For over 200 years, the Victoria amazonica has fascinated explorers and nobility alike, as one of the great exotic plants of the Amazon.
The Victoria amazonica helped spark worldwide interest in water lilies during the 1800s. This magnificent plant appears in the Shaw Gardens' catalogs from the early 20th Century.
A Water Lily Fit for a Queen
Named after the British monarch Queen Victoria, Victoria regia is widely considered to be the "Queen of Aquatics."
German/English explorer Robert Schomburgk popularized the Victoria regia when he sent water lily specimens to England from British Guiana, present-day Guyana, South American in 1837.
British botanist John Lindley published the first description of the plant and named it after the new queen.
The lily was renamed the Victoria amazonica in 1901, after the death of Queen Victoria.
Grown at the White House
In 1903, First Lady Edith Roosevelt wrote:
"Water gardens are a new fad. . .
It is intended by next year to
grow the wonderful Victoria regia
in the great basin to the south of
the executive mansion."
AQUA_190903_146.JPG: Nymphaea Marliac Flesh
AQUA_190903_158.JPG: Boardwalk to Tidal Marsh
AQUA_190903_161.JPG: Nelumbo nucifera
AQUA_190903_171.JPG: Nelumbo lutea
AQUA_190903_181.JPG: Under the Boardwalk
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
A walk along this boardwalk will take you over one of the greatest environmental restoration efforts in Washington, D.C.
Starting in 1900, dredging, filling and other alterations to the Anacostia river, destroyed this marsh habitat. As a result, many of the plants that previously absorbed and prevented erosion could not survive.
For years local residents urged the city and the federal government to improve the quality of water in the Anacostia River. As a result, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments launched the Kenilworth Marsh Project.
During the 1900s, over 32 acres of tidal wetland were restored and native vegetation was reintroduced to provide habitat for native wildlife.
AQUA_190903_192.JPG: Nuphar advena
AQUA_190903_203.JPG: Marsh Zones:
Wetland plants are specially adapted to live in wet soils. How long the soils are wet determines what plants will grow. Marsh plants can be thought of as growing in zones characterized by the amount of soil moisture. At Kenilworth marsh, hibiscus (Hisbisus sp.) and buttonbush (Cephalanthus accidentalis) are typical in the high-marsh zone, while cattails (Typha sp.), wild rice (Zizania aquatica), arrow arum (Pettandra virginica) and duck potato (Sagittaria latifolia) are characteristic of mid-marsh zones. Squatterdock (Naphar advena) is typical of the low-marsh zone and is often inundated with water.
Some areas with emergent wetland vegetation seen from the Boardwalk are remnants of the old Anacostia Marshes. Other emergent wetland areas were reconstructed on mud flats in 1993 during a cooperative effort between the National Park Service, the District of Columbia government, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments.
Invasive non-native plants such as common reed (Phragmites australia) and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) thrive in disturbed areas such as parts of Kenilworth Marsh. They often displace native plants and are a major concern of land managers.
AQUA_190903_216.JPG: Birds, Wetlands and... Conservation
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Anacostia River tidal marshes were far more extensive a hundred years ago than today. Marshes support amphibians, small fish and insects. This abundant aquatic life attracts herons, egrets, rails and other birds to feed. Over-hunting and draining of the wetland caused the decline of many bird species along the river.
People dedicated to changing this trend included Paul Bartsch, a local bird watcher, conservationist and professor at George Washington University. The Smithsonian Institution published his study, Herons of the Anacostia, in 1903.
Angry about losing so many birds to hunting, he and the National Audubon Society successfully lobbied Congress to pass some of the first nationwide laws protecting birds.
The National Park Service, local governments and non-profit organizations continue restoring wetlands along the Anacostia River. As a result, many herons and egrets have returned.
Effects are felt far beyond the Anacostia watershed as migratory birds use these wetlands as a stopover on their journeys.
Former Hunting Grounds
During the late summers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, sportsmen regularly spent afternoons bird shooting in the marsh. Often, they would hire local African American guides, who operated skiffs and new the river well, to take them hunting in the wetlands.
An eyewitness described the scene on August 22, 1900:
"The marsh was alive with crafts of all kinds plying through the tangle of maze and lily pads and host of other marsh-loving plants and bang, bang, bang, rang the guns continuously."
AQUA_190903_226.JPG: Picture Post
AQUA_190903_277.JPG: Preserve and Protect
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
National parks are special places owned by all Americans. Caring for these treasures is everyone's job. Throughout the country, citizen organized friends grouped to get people interested in and involved with preserving natural and cultural treasures.
Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is a non-profit organization. We work in cooperation with the National Park Service to connect people to this park through stewardship, public engagement and education programs.
To Preserve, Protect and Provide for the benefit of future generations:
The National Park Service
Since 1939, the National Park Service (NPS) has operated and maintained Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. NPS shifted the purpose of the gardens -- from propagating and selling lilies and lotus -- to interpreting and educating visitors about the site's history, ecosystems and aquatic plants.
In addition to park rangers leading tours and educational programs, a dedicated maintenance staff keeps the ponds, buildings and grounds in good repair.
The Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens help the National Park Service in its mission.
Five Star Staff
Some of the first NPS staff at the park, such as Fred Lundy, were former Shaw Gardens employees.
Local residents have also become influential rangers here. One being Walter McDowney, winner of the 1985 NPS Freeman Tilden Award for excellence in interpretation.
Growing up, Walter, "Ranger Mac" to visitors, often explored these gardens on his own and through ranger-led activities. Then, in 1968, he was hired as one of the first African American national park rangers. He inspired everyone with his love of nature.
AQUA_190903_291.JPG: Life Cycle of a Lotus
AQUA_190903_302.JPG: Helen Shaw Fowler
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Helen Fowler took over administration of the Shaw Gardens from her father in 1912. Under her guidance the gardens grew into one of the most extensive water plant businesses in the nation. By 1938, Shaw Gardens encompassed 42 ponds spread over nine acres contained 500,000 plants. Widely respected, Fowler traveled the world to collect lilies and roots. The botanist and curator of the U.S. National Herbarium gave her a letter of introduction to directors of botanical gardens in the West Indies and South America.
The business was progressive for its time. In addition to being woman-owned, Helen Fowler employed a number of local African American residents. She was the first woman in Washington, D.C. to have a commercial driver's license.
Local women's organizations such as the YWCA and the Women's Improvement Club of Silver Spring, Maryland, recognized Helen's role as a business owner and invited her to speak on several occasions.
Presiding over the whole establishment -- ponds, pools, greenhouses, studio -- is a woman, Mrs. Helen L. Fowler"
-- 1935 article in the Washington Post
From Commerce to Community
A proposed expansion of Anacostia Park by eminent domain, to include seizure of the Shaw Gardens, sparked a 19-year legal battle.
Helen Fowler led the Shaw family in opposing this plan by the federal government. With public and political pressure weighing against her, Helen Fowler agreed to sell the gardens to the government in 1938, for $50,000.
She lived on this property, serving as an authority on aquatic plants and advisor to the national park staff, until her death in 1957.
AQUA_190903_308.JPG: Flexing the River's Mussels
AQUA_190903_316.JPG: Nymphaea Mexicana
AQUA_190903_331.JPG: Planting Time
To grow tropical plants in the mid-Atlantic region takes patience and know-how. For over a century gardeners have watched for cues that it's safe to plant fragile aquatic lilies outdoors. But now climate change alters when these cues appear, especially in spring and fall. Your photos can help us track nature's cues. Take photos on the nearby picture post to help us record changes here.
AQUA_190903_336.JPG: Picture Post
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