There are those who denigrate the serene ambiance of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Too boring, they claim; the Arlington Cemetery of lily pads. Still, there's a certain regal appeal to the symmetry of 11 acres loaded with pond and marginal plants, and you don't have to kiss anything to evoke it.

W.B. Shaw, a disabled Civil War veteran, began planting the gardens in 1882. When his daughter took over management of this Eden on the Anacostia, she saw to it that new and exotic varieties of waterlilies and lotuses were developed. The government purchased the gardens in 1938, and now there are more than 40 species of plants, as well as a hundred cultivated waterlilies and lotuses.

Generally, to get the full, colorful impact of the gardens, it's best to go between 9 and noon. The place is open from 8 a.m. to dusk every day of the year, but during the summer especially, some of the blooms have the good sense to close during the heat of the day. (This month, some night- blooming tropical waterlilies would also reward a late-afternoon trip.) But if you want more than a visual understanding of the personality of this individualistic ecosystem, be there just at dusk, when the lilies come sonorously to life in a stunning sunset symphony.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens celebrates its 100th birthday this Saturday, and will feature special garden walks, nature walks and greenhouse tours. Beginning at noon, local artists will display their works, and electric vehicles will be available to transport disabled visitors through the gardens. KENILWORTH AQUATIC GARDENS -- Take Kenilworth Avenue to the Quarles Street NE exit. Follow signs. Or take Metro's Orange Line to the Deanwood exit, cross Kenilworth Avenue by the pedestrian overpass and go one block down Douglas Street.