Gardens and landscapes are alive and colorful in Washington DC, with the Capitol in bloom. Flowers on full display this summer include the peony, gladiolus, milkweed, hydrangea, and clematis, among others. Among the native perennials are sage, goldenrod, blue violets, beebalm, echinacea, and columbine. Spring and fall are great times to visit the Capitol, and during our early summer visit, I enjoyed all of the gorgeous colors.
An abundance of large trees provide shade from summer heat and humidity, and we were fortunate to experience moderate days with a slight breeze.
One of our stops, slightly off the beaten path but well worth a visit, was to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. Kenilworth, part of the National Park Service (NPS), is located in northeastern Washington. Kenilworth is the only national park in the country that specializes in aquatic plants. The waterlilies and lotus plants are cultivated near a tidal freshwater marsh, a watershed for the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, as well the Chesapeake Bay.
The Kenilworth gardens bloom in abundance in summer, and the ponds attract fish, turtles, frogs, dragonflies, birds, and lizards. On the boardwalk, we encountered a small, blue-tailed skink. Bird watchers come to see the many migratory bird that find respite in the wetlands. According to the National Park Service website, “many great egrets, great blue herons, green herons, turtles and osprey flybys have been spotted” in summer, though most of the passersby are not seen until fall.
Washington is a great walking city, but morning of course is the best time to avoid the heat. This trip was all about the neighborhoods rather than Capitol Hill, walking and admiring the Capitol in bloom. One morning I walked along the riverwalk on the east side of the Anacostia River, passing by historic Anacostia, the final home of Frederick Douglass. Looping across the Frederick Douglass Memorial bridge over to the west side of the river, I admired the construction progress of the modern arched bridge that will soon replace the current bridge. The walkway ends at the Nationals baseball park and the new and still developing Navy Yard neighborhood. I completed the 5-mile plus loop by crossing back to the east side via Pennsylvania Ave. on the John Philip Sousa Bridge, not too far from the Capital Rowing Club.
Despite trips to DC to visit family over many decades, I had never before visited Virginia’s Mount Vernon, home of George and Martha Washington, and I highly recommend it! The stately, 11,000 square foot historic mansion is open for tours, but the most impressive part of Mount Vernon is the estate itself. Our first President was a farmer, in addition to being a diplomat, President, and Commander-in-Chief. The original estate encompassed nearly 8,000 acres, mostly devoted to agriculture. Today, approximately 500 acres of land have been preserved, including several outbuildings.
We strolled from the main house past the smokehouse, wash house, stable house, and other outbuildings, wending our way through the woods to the Wharf. Along the way, we paused at the tombs and monument erected for Washington and his First Lady. Passing through fruit orchards, we came upon heritage breed chickens, goats, and sheep, as well a sampling of the vegetables that might have been grown on the estate. Apparently full access to the grounds is not always available, so check ahead before ordering tickets.
There is much to do and see in Washington DC. Come wintertime, I hope to check out some of the new exhibitions at the Smithsonian. One year, I hope to see the cherry trees in full bloom. But for now, if you are heading east, check out the beautiful gardens, both public and private, and enjoy the Capitol in bloom.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are in Bloom by Fritz Hahn. The Washington Post, July 15, 2021
Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. National Park Service.
A literal rainbow of flowers that anyone in DC can grow by Hillary Kelly. The Washingtonian, June 2016