The Missouri Botanical Garden
The Missouri Botanical Garden, a treasure trove of scenic beauty and botanical wonders.
A magical garden oasis and National Historic Landmark tucked away in St. Louis's sleepy Shaw neighborhood, just north of Tower Grove Park. This extensive, historic garden is surrounded by streets lined with mature trees and dreamy Victorian homes where hints of cobblestone still show through the pavement. The garden itself is bordered by grey stone walls and black Victorian-style wrought iron fencing. The Missouri Botanical Garden is 79 acres filled with various themed gardens. It is hard to imagine that such a large garden can be found so close to the urban St. Louis City center, but there it remains as it has since it was first cultivated by Henry Shaw in the mid-19th century. Henry Shaw, an Englishman who traveled to the town of St. Louis to go into business selling hardware and cutlery, but later expanded, investing in agricultural commodities, mining, real estate, and furs. Shaw's business was highly successful, providing him with a substantial fortune, which he used to travel across the United States and Europe and build his home, Tower Grove House. Inspired by gardens and the Great Exhibition seen during his travels, Shaw developed the property surrounding Tower Grove House into what is today the Missouri Botanical Garden. (Our History).
There are countless sights to see at the Missouri Botanical Garden, "the Garden." I recommend setting aside a full day to see all that it has to offer. The Garden is beautiful any time of the year, but if you are hoping to see particular flower displays like peonies (peak season April and May), flowering cherries (peak season March through April), or irises (peak season early may), I suggest timing your visit accordingly as these flowers have short blooming periods. This article focuses on attractions at the Garden that are viewable throughout the year, but please note that these photos were taken throughout the summer.
When you first enter the garden, to your left is a pretty greenhouse called, Linnean House, built in 1882. This detailed architectural structure was designed by architect, George I. Barnett, and was built as an orangery used to house palms, citrus, and tender potted plants over the winer. Shaw was inspired to build Linnean House by his travels in England and there is evidence that the orangeries at Kensington Palace and Kew Palace were key influences. (McNulty).
Gladney Rose Garden
As you meander through Linnean House, you will see the picturesque Gladney Rose Garden through the double doors. This beautiful garden is circular with numerous rose varieties planted in various beds, all bordered by trellises adorned with climbing roses. This garden's round design is punctuated by a calming pool fountain at its center.
If you continue on the path past Linnean House, you will come across four beautiful rectangular ponds filled with lily pads flanked by flowers and other vegetation.
In the background of the picture above, you can see the terra cotta roof of the gate, leading to the Ottoman Garden.
Inside the large red doors, signaling rich heritage and turkish influence, lies the Ottoman Garden. The Ottoman Garden, adorned with tall cypress trees, a large pool fountain, and a pergola shading a well-appointed throne, is a unique garden that makes visitors feel as though they have entered another time and place.
As you progress out of the Ottoman Garden, you find yourself again in a traditional english style garden with a red brick path, raised brick flower beds, and a quaint wall fountain shaded by a pergola. This area is known as the Sensory Garden, and a sensory experience it is. Here, all of your senses are engaged as you hear the sounds of trickling water from the mosaic wall fountain and the tinkling sound of wind chimes, and smell herbs planted in the raised brick flower beds. Sense of touch can even be engaged in this garden, as Lambs Ear, which is soft to the touch, is planted abundantly here.
Beyond the Sensory Garden, is a winding path where you will come across this unique, and very old stone object. This small stone structure is a cistern or water storage tank. This unique object is not original to the garden as it pre-dates Shaw's arrival in St. Louis. Its origins are European, and if I were to guess, I would say that it is likely English, given the crowned rose that closely resembles the Tudor Rose. It is interesting to think that this tank might have been used during the 17th century to water a garden like the one it sits in today.
Lily Pools & Climatron
Not much further along this path, you find yourself looking upon a majestic scene of lily pools and the Climatron, a view that the Garden is famous for.
Inside the Climatron, The Temperate House
Inside the Climatron, there is a beautiful tropical garden complete with a waterfall, but even more special and unique is what is connected to the Climatron, the Temperate House. Inside the Temperate House, there is an amazing Mediterranean style garden that includes exotic plants and trees such as fig, citrus, and olive trees. This lovely garden is detailed with a mosaic garden path and fountain, boxwood hedges, and gardenia trees.
Beyond this point, the garden is full of winding paths that go to a variety of gardens seemingly tucked away in the trees. One such garden, is the Boxwood Garden, which can be navigated to through the English Woodland Garden, which is a tree lined path with a stream running through it. The Boxwood Garden, my favorite garden, holds a special place in my heart, being the place where my husband and I got engaged. But, besides my personal attachment to this garden, it is very unique. The Boxwood Garden, as you might expect, includes boxwood hedges, over 60 unique varieties to be more specific. (Ruth Palmer Blanke Boxwood Garden). The hedges in this garden are sculpted into an elaborate pattern that weaves around a series of fountains that shoot streams of water from the ground, across the garden and over visitors' heads. The fountains launch streams in a pattern as if throwing the water from one pool to another, making for a breathtaking display. The Boxwood Garden also includes a beautiful gazebo and brick garden walls, everything you would expect from a traditional French garden. The swirling hedges remind me of the gardens at Versailles.
This sign is inlaid in the floor of the Boxwood Garden and features a famous quote from Voltaire's Candide, which translates to "We must cultivate our garden."
English Woodland Garden
This is the garden that you walk through on your way to the Boxwood Garden.
When you leave the Boxwood Garden, you begin your progression through the Japanese Garden, which occupies a large portion of the Missouri Botanical Garden's grounds. This scenic garden is like a nature park all its own, including a lake with a waterfall, four islands, bridges, piers, and extensive trails throughout.
The Japanese Garden includes a bridge where you can feed the Koi Fish, who greedily clamor to the surface to see who is coming to feed them next. Feeding the Koi is an entertaining activity as you get a good look at these enormous specimens fighting each other for their spoils.
Tower Grove House
As you come to the end of the Japanese Garden, a path takes you through the trees to a clearing where you find yourself on the grounds of Tower Grove House, Henry Shaw's country home. This well-appointed home is complete with a tower, where one can imagine Shaw would have stood admiring the splendor of his gardens. The house is complete with several gardens of its own, the herb garden, tended by the St. Louis Herb Society, and a beautiful terra cotta lined, formal garden with a statue at its center known as the Victorian Garden.
St. Louis Herb Society's Herb Garden
This Victorian style herb garden contains about 350 varieties of herbs grouped based on their uses such as culinary, medicinal, fragrant, and utility or use around the house. The St. Louis Herb Society was started in 1941 by a group of women who wanted to learn about herbs. Today, St. Louis Herb Society members teach classes and host an annual herb sale, in addition to tending this garden. (St. Louis Herb Society Garden).
Formal garden on the side of Tower Grove House. Look at this fabulous terra cotta edging!
Observatory & Maze
Beyond Tower Grove House is an observatory and maze. Have fun getting lost in the maze of hedges or overlooking the maze from the top of the observatory. These elements add a touch of whimsey to the Garden.
Sachs Museum (Shaw's Library)
On this same path is the Sachs Museum, which is a building that is original to the property and served as Shaw's library. This building was closed until its restoration and reopening in 2018. The library is an exceptional example of art and architecture, boasting floor-to-ceiling bookcases and a full-ceiling painted mural with intricate details like countless plant species depicted in its design.
Lehmann Rose Garden
On a path to the left of Tower Grove House, is another larger rose garden, the Lehmann Rose Garden. This sumptuous garden has lush green grass adorned with a variety of perennial flowers, roses, and bubbling fountains.
Herring House (Gardener's Cottage)
Last, but not least, I simply could not tell you about the Missouri Botanical Garden without showing you this adorable gardener's cottage. Its formal name is Herring House. This lovely cottage was built in accordance with Shaw's will, which requested that a cottage be made for the groundskeeper who would live in the house and care for his mausoleum and the surrounding gardens. This cottage was occupied by garden employees until 2001 and has been vacant since.
Bonus Pictures & Sights to See at the Missouri Botanical Garden
McNulty, Elizabeth, and Peter Wyse Jackson. Linnean House: Historic Greenhouse of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Missouri Botanical Garden, 2011.
“Our History.” Missouri Botanical Garden, www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/about/additional-information/our-history.aspx.
“Ruth Palmer Blanke Boxwood Garden.” Missouri Botanical Garden, www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/media/fact-pages/boxwood-garden.aspx.
“St. Louis Herb Society Garden.” Missouri Botanical Garden, www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/media/fact-pages/herb-garden.aspx.