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Photographing Lotus and Water Lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Spend a Morning Photographing Beautiful Lotus and Water Lily Blossoms at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens!

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Located on the eastern bank of the Anacostia River, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is a one-of-a-kind destination within Anacostia Park and it is a hidden gem in Washington, DC. The summer lotus and lily blossoms are a “must see” during their peak blooming period in July, not unlike viewing the cherry blossoms in the spring. The Anacostia River is the Eastern Branch of the Potomac River and the area was originally wetlands, where the Nacotchtank – the indigenous Algonquian people – lived for almost 4,000 years. Eventually, in the late 1600s, as the English Colony in Maryland grew, the Nacotchtank were displaced, and the wetlands became farmland for tobacco crops.

In the 1880s, a Civil War Veteran named Walter Shaw bought 30 acres of land on the flats of the Anacostia River. Walter cleaned out an ice pond that had been built in the edging wetland (considered unusable) by a previous owner and planted wild water lilies that he had transported from his parents’ home in Maine. This was the start of the Shaw Aquatic Gardens. After Shaw’s death in 1921, his daughter Helen Shaw Fowler continued to run Shaw Gardens, which sold about 4 dozen different water lilies! In 1930, Helen Fowler received a condemnation notice, as part of a dredging project on the Anacostia River. She fought to save Shaw Gardens, and in 1938, Congress authorized payment of $15,000. for 8 acres of land, which was added to Anacostia Park. Helen Shaw Fowler lived on the property and cared for it until her death 15 years later. Included in this 8 acre parcel was a section of the original marsh, which is accessible by the Boardwalk at the back of the aquatic gardens.

Life Cycle of a Lotus Blossom

Today, the historic ponds and the natural wetland areas that support them are managed by the National Park Service. There are over 45 ponds filled with a variety of water lilies and lotus, an elevated boardwalk through the surrounding tidal marshes, and access to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. There is some type of water lily blooming in the park from early May until mid-September, but the gardens are known for their lotus display which reaches peak bloom in mid-July. During this time, there are several varieties of lotus – white, pink, and fancy in all stages of their life cycle:

  • Bud, which is about the size of a grapefruit,
  • Newly opened, with a bright yellow seed pod, yellow stamens and cream anthers – the flower is about the size of a basketball!!,
  • Mature blossoms, with a pale yellow seed pod
  • Aging blossoms with a seed pod that has turned a beautiful shade of pale green,
  • The green seed pod, with no petals or stamens attached.

There are also plenty of other flowers and wildlife to photograph, such as water lilies, wildflowers, bees, dragonflies, butterflies, birds and bullfrogs.

During the class, we will work on using different focal lengths, f-stops and compositional techniques to create artistic images.

Make sure to bring your longest lens – a zoom lens such as the Tamron 18-400mm works well, since the Lotus grow in ponds, and most are not easily accessible, although there are some that grow close to the edges of the ponds. A tripod and remote release are also recommended, since the long lens does get heavy after a while! Bring a circular polarizer, a reflector and diffuser, if you have them.

Water Lily at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Water, a hat and bug spray are also recommended for later in the morning.

Here is what one client had to say about a WPS safari: “Lots of patience for a beginner. The instructor took time to explain the basics for me and provide more stylistic advice to those more experienced in my group. I would do another tour in a heartbeat.” Devin T.