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The Missouri Botanical Garden: an Oasis in St Louis
by Richard
September 21st, 2006

As is the case with most major American cities, St Louis, Missouri, underwent rapid industrialisation over the course of the twentieth century. However, unlike many of these cities, St Louis also managed to preserve a large amount of its natural parkland: today, it is home to just under three million people, yet it houses a staggering total of 105 open parks. These include Forrest Park, which is one of the world’s largest urban parks and is even larger than New York’s Central Park; the Saint Louis Zoological Park; and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a 91 acre national park situated on the riverfront along which the city was first established in 1764. However, the most interesting and perhaps the most widely applauded of St Louis’ many parks is the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

One of the oldest of its kind in the United States, the Missouri Botanical Gardens is a National Historic Landmark and has continued to live up to its mission statement - “To discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment, in order to preserve and enrich life,” - since its inception in 1859. Founded by Henry Shaw, a nineteenth century botanist and philanthropist from Sheffield, England, it is often affectionately known as ‘Shaw’s Garden’, and is today one of the leading botanical research sites in the world. When Shaw built his estate, the Tower Grove House, in 1851, he saw the great potential of turning the grounds surrounding his estate into a botanical garden, and spent years planning and funding its development.

Now stretching over 79 acres, its horticultural exhibits have been constantly updated since its initial creation. In 1882, Linnean House, which is thought to be the oldest continually operated greenhouse west of the Mississippi River, was added. This century more additions have been made: in 1915, the Gladney Rose Garden became a new feature; in 1977, ‘Seiwa-en’, the largest Japanese Garden in North America, was established. This was joined in 1995 by the Grigg Nanjing Friendship Chinese Garden, designed by architect Yong Pan and characterised by gifts from the Chinese city of Nanjing, St Louis’ sister city.

In recent years, the gardens have played host to a diverse cross-section of events: these include Chinese Culture Days in May, the Japanese Festival on Labour Day weekend and the Best of Missouri Market, which features more than 120 food producers and craftsmen from all corners of the state. These annual events have helped put the Missouri Botanical Garden on the map of essential places to visit in St Louis, and every year more than three quarters of a million people flock to view its beautiful sights. Accommodation is not a problem as there are a variety of hotels located in the vicinity, including the spacious two-room suites provider, Homewood Suites in St. Louis-Chesterfield. However, when marvelling at the beauty of the Missouri Botanical Garden, it is always important to keep in mind the importance of its “unseen garden”, the internationally recognised research infrastructure that has been the key to its survival all these years.

Richard lives in Edinburgh, occasionally writing for the personal finance blog Cashzilla, and listens to music no one else likes.
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