Botanic Gardens, Gardens

Missouri Botanical Garden

April 12, 2017

While reading The Thoughtful Gardener by British garden designer Jinny Blom on an unseasonably cold and snowy early April day, I came upon her assessment of tulips.

They “come in great fanfares and save you from thinking spring is but a damp squib with nothing to commend it after months of winter” writes Blom. If April is indeed the cruelest month, let there be tulips.

I have miserable luck with tulips in my garden as they are well-loved by the local deer population who manage to decimate them each and every year. However, the idea of tulips sent me on a search of pictures of tulips in gardens I visited and never wrote about. This led me to the Missouri Botanical Garden.

The nation’s oldest botanical garden in continuous operation (and a National Historic Landmark), the Missouri Botanical Garden was founded in 1859. I have visited several times.

A center for botanical research and science education, the garden is the legacy of businessman Henry Shaw (seen below), who arrived in Saint Louis in the spring of 1819, at the age of 18, from England.

Detail of 1859 watercolor portrait of Henry Shaw by Emile L. Herzinger ©2017 Missouri Botanical Garden

According to the garden’s website, on a half-day journey on horseback, Shaw rode westward through marshy ground past sinkholes and Indian burial mounds until he arrived at a narrow path cutting through brush on elevated ground overlooking a prairie. “Uncultivated,” he recorded, “without trees or fences, but covered with tall luxuriant grass, undulated by the gentle breeze of spring.”

Camille & Dry 1875 map ©2017 Missouri Botanical Garden

Here, Shaw built a country home, Tower Grove House. Inspired by visits to the great gardens and estates of Europe, he developed a garden on the property as a gift for the residents of St. Louis. Encouraged by botanist and friend, Dr. George Engelmann, this evolved into a center of scientific research with an herbarium, library and botanical collection.

Seventy nine acres in size the Missouri Botanical Garden includes 23 demonstration gardens, 5 formal gardens, 15 courts and family gardens, 6 international gardens and 3 conservatories.

Henry Shaw’s restored country residence, the Tower Grove House is sited in the Lichtenstein Victorian District which includes the Kresko Family Victorian Garden and Herb Garden, the Kaeser Maze and the Piper Observatory.

Shaw’s mausoleum, sited in a wooded grove carpeted with bluebells is nearby.

Approximately three acres in size, the Cherbonnier English Woodland Garden contains more than 300 rhododendrons and azaleas, 100 dogwoods and clusters of wildflowers, hydrangeas and perennials planted in a naturalistic setting. A meandering brook flows into the Japanese garden.

Seiwa-en, the “Garden of pure, clear harmony and peace” is, at 14-acres in size, one of the largest Japanese Gardens in North America and my favorite spot in the botanical garden.

Dedicated in 1977, it is serenely beautiful in every season with plantings, waterfalls, bridges, beaches, islands and artwork that represent centuries of Japanese cultural influences.

Modeled on the “scholar’s gardens” of the southern provinces of China, the Margaret Grigg Nanjing Friendship Garden commemorates the longstanding scientific and cultural exchanges between the Missouri Botanical Garden and Chinese botanical institutions.

The Friendship Garden honors the sister city relationship between St. Louis and Nanjing, China.

The quarter-acre Ottoman garden, added in 2006, is influenced by the gardens of the region that is now Turkey (where several of the fountains and architectural features were fabricated) during the 16th and 19th centuries.

Intimate in scale the Ottoman Garden is delicately detailed. A wooden arbor provides shelter. Traditional features include two sundials, a stone pedestal where one can rinse their hands in the cooling waters and a shallow pool encircled by spouts that replicates the Source of Life, giving birth to the River of Paradise.

The Missouri Botanical Garden includes three conservatories including the iconic Climatron®. Opened in 1960, it is designed with principles established by R. Buckminster Fuller and houses a tropical rain forest with more than 2,800 plants and 1,400 tropical species.

The first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory, in 1976 the Climatron® was named one of the one hundred most significant architectural achievements in United States history. Almost a century separates the Climatron® from the Linnean House, seen below.

Built in 1882 and named in honor of Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist the Linnean House is the only greenhouse in the garden existing during Henry Shaw’s lifetime and is the oldest continuously operated public greenhouse west of the Mississippi River.

Originally designed as an orangery and renovated in 2010 – 2011 the greenhouse shelters an extensive collection of camellias. A pool and fountain directly outside of the Linnean House is surrounded by seasonal plantings and graced by one of the garden’s many sculptures.

To fully explore the many gardens and programs offered at the Missouri Botanical Gardens visit their website:

 Copyright © 2017 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved








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