Shaw’s Garden Celebrates Historic Anniversary

– Posted in: Miscellaneous
Lois Whiteside Franklin Flower Trial Garden

Lois Whiteside Franklin Flower Trial Garden

The Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year, making it the oldest botanical garden in continuous operation in the nation. I’d like to mark the occasion with an informational post.

According to the MBG web site, the garden was created by prominent St. Louis businessman Henry Shaw with guidance from eminent botanist Dr. George Engelmann. Shaw’s native England was the inspiration for the garden, originally a treeless prairie far outside the city. Shaw intended his garden to be a center for education, scientific research and horticultural display. Today the MBG is a National Historic Landmark and maintains one of the world’s leading programs in botanical research. 

I am a frequent visitor to the Garden. As a designer, I feel incredibly fortunate to have such a valuable resource at my disposal year round. I enjoy wandering the 79 acres, exploring the many international and themed gardens.


MBG boasts the largest traditional Japanese strolling garden in North America, covering 14 acres, including a 4 ½ acre lake. In early summer, the Gladney Rose Garden is one of my favorite haunts, with over one hundred varieties of hybrid tea and floribunda roses. 

During the winter months the lush green foliage and high humidity of the Climatron® are welcoming. The conservatory is a geodesic domed structure covering over a half-acre; inspired by the design of R. Buckminster Fuller. 

Kresko Family Victorian Garden

Kresko Family Victorian Garden

Sculpture plays a prominent role at the Gardens. There is an extensive permanent collection as well as seasonal exhibitions. Recently, Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures were on exhibit. Last year, forty massive pop-art mosaic and painted sculptures by the late Niki de Saint Phalle were placed throughout the Garden. 

On Wednesday evenings June through August the Garden is alive with music.  We pack a picnic and enjoy the Whitaker Jazz Festival. I can’t imagine a better music venue!

Justin & Rose Naumann Experimental Garden

Justin & Rose Naumann Experimental Garden

If I had to choose just one, my favorite resource at the Garden would have to be the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. The Center sprawls over 8.5 acres with 23 demonstration gardens. I always find inspiring planting combinations in the Experimental Garden. It is my understanding the monochromatic vignettes in the photograph above were designed by an intern. Follow the link to see the mature plantings.

According to the MBG web site, the Center offers soil testing, educational classes, plastic pot recycling, and Plant of Merit program and to name a few.

Volunteer Master Gardeners staff the Plant Doctor desk to diagnose plant problems and provide treatment recommendation and man a horticultural answer service providing personalized answers to specific phone-in gardening questions.

Have you used the PlantFinder? I suspect you may have, without even knowing it. Just for fun try ‘Googling’ Pennisetum. Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ appears as number five on my search and links to  The service contains information on 4,000+ plants currently growing or that have been grown in the demonstration gardens at the Kemper Center. 

This post highlights a few of the many wonderful features of the MBG and the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. I haven’t even touched on the research being carried out. Spend some time on the MBG web site (you’ll find much better photos than I have on file). And, if you find you’ll be in St. Louis, plan for a day at the Garden!

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.
Adam Woodruff

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13 comments… add one

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Lisa at Greenbow January 24, 2009, 8:04 am

I have been here twice. I would go more often but it is a 3.5hr drive from my house. Well worth the drive though. I didn’t know Chihuly was displayed there. I would have made the effort. I love his work. You have reminded me that I should check their web site for events. I love to see artists works displayed in gardens.

Good morning Lisa. Thanks for your comments. The orchid show begins at the end of the month and runs until mid March. It is well worth the trip.

Check back in a couple of weeks, I’ll be blogging about the MBG’s Plant of Merit Program.


Helen/patientgardener January 24, 2009, 12:00 pm

How nice to have such a wonderful resource so close to you. I am feeling very jealous.

I envy your access to the beautiful gardens of England! Great blog by the way.


MacGardens January 24, 2009, 1:44 pm

We visited MBG two years ago and it was a real treat. I remember the Turkish Garden with Centaurea dealbata and the various specimen trees in particular. I came back with a list of new plants to grow.

I’m not surprise. I seem to stumble on a new must have plant every time. I particularly enjoy the Chinese garden. It is a very restful space.


Helen @ Gardening With Confidence January 24, 2009, 4:53 pm

I’ve never been, but understand PPA will meet there this year. I hope to go then. Thanks for sharing.

Hi Helen. Thanks for writing. Saint Louis will be hosting the PPA’s annual symposium in July. I am including a link for additional information. Hope to see you there!


Gail January 24, 2009, 5:52 pm

I love this garden. Really love it! It’s still Shaw’s Garden to me! But boy oh boy is it a wonderful botanical garden now! I use the plant finder daily! We visit the garden whenever we are home. They have the best display of Aesculus parviflora near the Climatron that I have ever seen. gail

Gail, I’m glad to hear you enjoy the garden. I agree completely, the bottlebrush buckeye grove is stunning.


Robin Wedewer January 24, 2009, 7:11 pm

It’s incredible what a fabulous job these public gardens do. The Victorian Garden really caught my attention–so much color!

I don’t know that I’ll ever make it to Missouri, but if I do, this garden is on my list.

Robin Wedewer

Hi Robin. Thanks for your comments. This would be a great year to visit! In addition to the MBG festivities, the Perennial Plant Association is holding its annual symposium in Saint Louis in July.


jodi January 24, 2009, 9:04 pm

Oh, WOW! I was in Kansas City last August and went to Powell Gardens, which I loved…wish that St. Louis would invite me down for a visit! But meantime, I’ll just oogle your photos, stalk their website and sigh a lot.

Thanks for your comments, Jodi. I’ll have to check out Powell next time I am in KC. I hear wonderful things about the gardens!


Pam Kersting January 25, 2009, 9:36 pm

WoW! Great post! I would love to visit that garden some day. You are very fortunate to have it nearby. I am getting ready to post an article on “Color in the Garden” and that photo of the Kresko Family Victorian Center would have been a perfect photo to end my article with. I was talking about how color can be used to create unity and harmony and link spaces together.

Thanks for your comments Pam! You have a great blog. I’ll check back to see your article on color in the garden. Color is integral to the success of my designs. I always find inspiring combinations at the MBG. They have a creative staff and wonderful volunteers.


eliz January 26, 2009, 1:32 am

This is a must-visit for me, though I don’t know when I could get to Missouri. But you never know.

Love the contrasts between the Victorian and contemporary elements.

Good morning Elizabeth. Thanks for your comment. If you do make it to the Midwest I’d encourage a trip to Chicago as well. The Chicago Botanic Garden, the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park and the Gardens at Ball Seed are all great resources as well.

By the way, I very much enjoy your blog Garden Rant!


RAUL FELICIANO January 30, 2009, 7:05 am

I often think of those green spaces in New York,
or the New York Botanical Garden where I went
for my certificate.

In Puerto Rico there is not ONE decent garden
in the Metro area of San Juan. When I feel
like enjoying one I visit the internet.

By the way those who are curious as to gardening concept designs out of your
surroundings, context may visit:
Cesar Manrique Cabrera, Lanzarote.
A dry/desertic installation in total embrace
with nature/ecology.

Your article has been refreshing, stimulating.

Thanks for your comments and suggestions Raul.


Callen Fairchild Zind February 3, 2009, 3:48 pm

Hi Adam,
I just came across this blog today–and am so happy I did. I grew up visiting “Shaw’s Garden” and got to spend an entire day there last summer and loved every minute. Now I have the pleasure of working for Powell Gardens on the other side of the state. I do hope you can manage a visit sometime this season. This year we’ll be opening our largest expansion ever–the 12-acre Heartland Harvest Garden, which also will be the nation’s largest edible landscape.

Hello Callen. Thanks for writing. I will definitely try to make it to Powell Gardens this season. I am curious to see the design of the Heartland Harvest Garden. Sounds impressive!


Adam May 29, 2009, 8:43 pm

To see historical photos of Shaw’s Garden follow the link-

Rob Bond October 14, 2016, 8:48 pm

I have personally never been but I would love to drop by these botanical gardens. The only ones I have been to was the one in Chicago. It was amazing!

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