The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens which are part of the Anacostia Park were established in the 1880s by Walter B. Shaw as a personal improvement to his land. Shaw came to Washington, D.C. to work as a letter writer for the Treasury Department. This was a great accomplishment for Shaw since he had lost his right arm during the Civil War and he had to rehabilitate himself by learning to write with his left hand.
After marrying Lucy Maria Miller, Shaw purchased 30 acres of land along the Anacostia River from his in-laws. To beautify the land, Shaw planted twelve white water lilies from his native state of Maine in a pond. Throughout his life, Shaw continued cultivating water plants and expanding his aquatic gardens. When Shaw died in 1921, his daughter, Helen Shaw Fowler, used the gardens as a commercial tourist attraction. In 1938, Congress authorized payment of $15,000 to buy 8 acres of land with aquatic gardens, and they were annexed to the Anacostia Park.
Water lilies (Nymphea sp.) get their botanical name from the legendary water spirits. The Kenilworth gardens have both winter hardy and tropical waterlilies. The winter hardy waterlilies have cup-shaped flowers and smooth edged leaves. The tropical waterlilies have open saucer shaped flowers and scalloped-edged leaves with brown or red blotches on them. Waterlily flowers and leaves lie close to the water's surface.
The lotus (Nelumbo sp.) is related to the waterlilies, but because it has tall stems and larger leaves, it can dominate a pond by shading the low-growing waterlilies. The giant lily pads are five feet in diameter.
The ponds attract a wide variety of wild life such as ducks, geese, and turtles.