Category Archives: flowers

Amazing Lotus Flowers and Water Lilies at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

On Saturday, I visited the annual water lily and lotus festival at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. The free festival was from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and billed as a family event.  I arrived early to park nearby but there was a shuttle that ferried people from the metro station and other parking lots. The music had already started. There was a stage with a band, plenty of picnic tables, and paper lotus-shaped lanterns strung from trees. People from several local organizations were setting up tables to either inform the public of their organization, offer crafts for kids, sell or make the paper lanterns, try lotus tea, and other activities. Many families brought coolers to eat lunch; later I spied several food trucks parked on the street. Because this is a national park, there is a small gift shop, plenty of bathrooms, and very informative rangers. There also were volunteer from the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens passing out brochures.

I first saw pools of water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) and then an interesting collection of cannas. I took many photos with only an iPhone — I had no idea this was THE photographic event. Swarms of professional photographers collected on the banks, setting up tripods and taking photos with large equipment.

Down the trail was a field of the sacred Asian lotus, Nelumbo nucifera. There were thousands of blossoms and seed heads with leaves larger than dinner plates. Beyond that were more ponds with water lilies and more lotus. There were many other water loving plants on the paths including buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), swamp mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos),  and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). Frogs, turtles, butterflies, dragonflies, and plenty of birds were in view and I heard there were beavers, ducks, and herons.

Further out was a boardwalk to the Kenilworth Marsh, the last surviving tidal marsh on the Anacostia River. This wild, natural area gives a glimpse of what the river would have looked like 300 years ago when it was inhabited by Nacotchtank American Indians (Jesuit priests later changed the name to Anacostia).

The Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, located within the Anacostia Park, is the only National Park Service unit dedicated to cultivating water loving plants.  It is comprised of more than 45 ponds filled with a variety of tropical and hardy water lilies, lotus, and other aquatic species. This land was originally owned by Walter B. Shaw, a veteran of the Civil War. He had a clerical position with the U.S. Treasury Department and purchased 30 acres in the 1880’s. He planted water lilies from his hometown in Maine in a pond that was used to make ice. As he built more ponds and grew more water lilies, he developed the W.B. Shaw Lily Ponds business. His daughter, Helen, managed the business and traveled the world looking for more varieties of water lilies and lotus. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to dredge the Anacostia River, threatening to destroy the gardens, Congress purchased 8 acres in 1938 to preserve the area and the plants. The National Park Service received the property and renamed the gardens Kenilworth.

Even though the annual festival is over, the water lilies and lotus are still there in full bloom. Visit in the morning as many flowers will close up in the afternoon or when temperatures are above 90 degrees. The hardy water lilies begin blooming in early May and tropical water lilies bloom from early June through early fall. The lotus bloom from late June through the end of August. I overheard a ranger say that they have the giant Amazonian water lily (Victoria trickeri) but the leaves do not reach mature size until September. If you are interested in volunteering  or learning more about their other events, contact the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

In a Vase on Monday: Small Flowered Zinnias and a Surprise Herb

I like to grow different types of zinnias each summer, particularly old-fashioned species. This year I grew a yellow-flowered Peruviana (Zinnia peruviana) and multi-colored Persian Carpet (Zinnia haageana). Tucked in this arrangement is a yellow-flowered herb, can you guess what it is? Here is a clue: This herb grows as a tangled perennial in my zone 7 Virginia garden and is just now blooming in July. #inavaseonmonday

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Four O’Clocks

yellow four o’clocks in my garden, 8:30 pm

When we were at Monticello last summer I was struck by how large Thomas Jefferson’s four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) were compared to mine. I also liked the fact that it was a plant he knew and grew and could still be grown today as an heirloom. Although I had a few small plants in dry, lean soil in full sun, I was inspired to start new plants from seed this year. I planted them in very rich soil, under morning sun and afternoon shade. Yes, Virginia, despite our heat, humidity, and lack of rain, they are growing very well. They are about 2 feet tall with light green leaves and many yellow or pink blossoms.

The only trick is that the flowers do not open in the day. Although they are named for opening at 4:00 pm, mine never do. The tubular blossoms are sensitive to light and temperature and prefer to open during the cool of the evening, usually between 4 and 8 pm, and stay open all night long. Currently we are in the midst of a heat wave so they do not seem to be opening fully.

flower begins to open in evening

Flowers come in pink, white, red, yellow, magenta, or mixed, liked speckled. They are tender perennials which means they will grow as perennials in the south but in my zone 7 garden, I can grow them as annuals that may not overwinter, dig and save the tubers for next year, or start new seed next year. Four o’clocks were cultivated and selected for various colors by the Aztecs prior to the Spanish Conquest. They were then introduced to Spain and England and were in cultivation in Europe for about 200 years before Linnaeus first described the species in 1753. Thomas Jefferson received his from France. In July 1767, exactly 250 years ago to the month, he noted in his journal “Mirabilis just opened, very clever.”

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day occurs on the 15th of the month. Garden bloggers from around the world post their articles about blossoms in their garden.

pink four o’clocks at Monticello, early afternoon

In a Vase on Monday: Black-Eyed Susans

During the Garden Bloggers Fling, I had the opportunity to get to know Susie Moffat who mentioned that Cathy at Rambling in the Garden posts a photo of flowers in a vase on Mondays and calls it “In a Vase on Monday.” Other bloggers chime in and post photos of their vases of flowers on Monday. Usually I cut flowers in my garden and bring them to the office but I just stick them in a vase; I don’t “arrange.” By Friday they have passed their prime so I do it all over again the next week. For today, July 10, I have black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta. They are very easy to grow in my Virginia garden and they are the state flower for Maryland where I work.  #inavaseonmonday

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Feverfew

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is an old herb once thought to treat fevers but actually is helpful in preventing migraine headaches. I first saw the plant blooming at a demonstration garden a few years ago and liked the small, daisy-like flowers, similar to chamomile. I sowed seed late last summer and transplanted the seedlings in the ground before frost. They weathered the mild winter in my zone 7 Virginia garden but remained small. When the temperature increased in early spring, the plants grew up very fast and started blooming as early as . The plants are several feet tall now in full sun, oblivious to our current dry spell. I do not use feverfew medicinally but as a summer flowering perennial. Because they are small white flowers, they are great by themselves in a vase or as a filler with other flowers.

I read that the plant has a strong and bitter smell but I don’t notice it. I have also read that feverfew has mosquito repelling qualities but there are still the same number of mosquitoes in my garden.  However, I have noticed that nothing goes near it, no deer and no rabbits.

My variety is Heirloom Double White Wonder from Renees Garden but there are other cultivars on the market such as Aureum, White Bonnet, Golden Ball, Crown White, and Ultra Double White. You may not find this in your local nursery as a plant; you may have to purchase seed but the seed germinates easily. Feverfew is known to be a short-lived perennial but it will be a summer-long success in my garden this year.

The 15th of the month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day where garden bloggers post photos of plants that are blooming in their area across the country.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Border Pinks

Years ago I was given a border pink named Heart’s Desire. A border pink is a group of Dianthus perennials that are used for border edging or rock gardens. They are small plants with gray green, grass-like leaves. They prefer full sun and are drought tolerant once established. Dianthus flowers range from pink to red, have the same ruffled look as a carnation, with the same clove fragrance as a carnation. But a Dianthus is a much smaller plant, a mound of foliage less than a foot wide with inch-wide blossoms on 6-inch stems. Heart’s Desire, a Blooms of Bressingham introduction, is bubblegum pink with a red halo.

Dianthus flowers are edible but fortunately deer don’t eat them. For my family, I pull apart the petals to add color to green or fruit salads and lemonade or fruit drinks.  I also cut the flowers for small vases in the office. This plant is a performer — it has thrived on a sunny terrace in my Virginia garden with no maintenance and no fertilizer for many years. Heart’s Desire blooms all summer long and the leaves stay above ground during the winter. 

Petite Jenny’s Lavender-Rose Flowers Sway Like a Calder Mobile

Last year I received a small green plant that just sat in my garden all year long. It really did not grow much, it did not bloom, it just took up 6 inches of space. I assumed it was on its way to the pearly gates. This year, it has bloomed so well I would not mind having a few more! Lychnis ‘Petite Jenny’ has leaves at the base (a basal rosette) with inch-wide lavender-rose, tufted blossoms atop 12-inch wiry stems. Petite Jenny started blooming in April in my Virginia garden and should bloom all summer long. Because the flowers sit atop the thin stems, the blossoms sway in the breeze, much like a Calder mobile.

Now that it is flowering (its alive!), I realized I was fortunate to plant mine next to a ninebark called ‘Summer Wine’ (Physocarpus opulifolius). Summer Wine is a small bush with dark, red/purple foliage that complements Petite Jenny’s lavender-rose flowers and also provides a dark backdrop to make it easier to see the flowers.

Hardy to zone 5, Petite Jenny prefers full sun to part shade and more moist than dry soil. It is deer resistant and the flowers can be cut for arrangements. There is a “Jenny” that is a larger plant; Petite Jenny is a dwarf form with sterile blossoms (sterile blossoms have a longer blooming period). Petite Jenny is a Blooms of Bressingham introduction. If this great perennial is not available at your local independent garden center, contact http://www.musthaveperennials.com