On May 3, 1819, Henry Shaw, a young upper class Englishman, landed in the small town of St. Louis, Missouri, with a large shipment of hardware products. He was only eighteen years old at the time but he soon started a hardware business and became one of the wealthiest men in the city. He was the owner of a huge estate and became a famous botanist and collector after he retired at age 40. His estate became a botanical garden patterned after Kew Gardens in London.
After his death in 1889, his estate, known as “Shaw’s Garden”, was set aside as a public garden, along with Tower Grove Park, for the enjoyment of the people of St. Louis…the white people, anyway. Shaw was a man of his age and a shrewd businessman. He never married but that is another story. He also was a slave-owner but that was not unusual in pre-Civil War St. Louis…and that, also, is another story. His racial prejudice was not unusual in his day (and for many years afterward) but change came, slowly but decidedly.
Shaw’s Garden (as it is still known by most locals) became the Missouri Botanical Gardens and is one of the leading botanical gardens and research institutions in the world. Admission is $8.00 but local residents have free admission two days a week.
The Italianate-style Tower Grove House was Shaw’s country home and the center of his large estate. Today it is a house museum surrounded by herbal and Victorian-style gardens. Shaw is buried in a granite mausoleum in a grove of trees nearby.
Shaw spent his retirement years pursuing his love of botany. Being extremely wealthy, he was able to collect living plants from all over the world. He also collected botanical specimens, books and plant material and had to build a museum and library to house his collections. The library was built in 1858. That building still stands but a new, modern library and research center is located nearby.
Shaw had a special greenhouse – his orangry – built in 1882. This is now the Linnean House, probably the oldest continually operated greenhouse west of the Mississippi River. Today it houses various types of cactus and dry climate plants from around the world.
Sculptures in the Garden
There are dozens of sculptures scattered through the garden. This is a small one – about 15 inches square.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew), the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) and the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) are now collaborating to create a world catalogue of plants (online) by the year 2020. New plant species are frequently being discovered but over 100,000 species are endangered with extinction.
My last visit was a hot July day several years ago. It was a typical humid summer day in St. Louis. The garden is very shady due to the 100+ year old trees and, although it was 95 degrees, it was fairly tolerable. Being a Friday with a heat advisory posted there were not many people and we had much of the garden to ourselves.
The major blooming ‘show’ was the daylilies in full regalia. They have hundreds of varieties…no two look alike. These are some random pictures of the daylilies.
Float like a butterfly – sting like a bee.
If you find yourself in St. Louis and you’re looking for something to do — be sure to check out the garden.
(Revised and reposted from ‘I Spy With My Little Eye’ photo blog on BlogSpot. All photographs are by the author)