Commentary: The Missouri Botanical Garden is a St. Louis crown jewel | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: The Missouri Botanical Garden is a St. Louis crown jewel

Sep 6, 2018

Nancy Kranzberg

St. Louis has many beautiful and special art museums, but few people would list the Missouri Botanical Garden as one of them and yet what an art museum it is. The garden often referred to as Shaw's Garden has many dimensions. 

Founded in 1859, the Garden is the oldest botanical garden in continuous operation in the country and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is on 79 acres of beautiful and varied gardens.

There are dozens of specialty gardens within the Garden itself such as:

  • Seiwa-En, the Japanese Garden founded in 1977 on 19 acres. It is a wonderful strolling garden designed by Kaishi Kawana and it’s the largest Japanese Garden in North America. 
  • The Grigg Nanging Friendship Chinese Garden(1993) designed by architect Yong Pan.
  • And there’s the Blanke Boxwood Garden.
  • The Strassenfest German Garden(2000) with flora native to Germany and Central Europe. Within the garden is a bust of George Engelmann (Shaw's scientific advisor) sculpted by Paul Grandlund.
  • There's the Biblical Garden and an Ottomon Garden with water features.
  • And there's the Climatron, a greenhouse enclosed in a geodesic dome, with reflecting pools (1960) designed by architect and engineer, Thomas C. Howard and the Herbarium with more than 6.6 million specimens, the second largest in America. 
  • The Linnean House from 1882 is the oldest continually operating greenhouse west of the Mississippi.
  • There's the English Woodland Garden and the Gladney Rose Garden. 
  • A life-size bronze by acclaimed African-American sculptor, Tina Allen of California, is the focal point of the George Washington Carver Garden.

 And besides the beautiful landscape architecture, there are the beautiful and historic buildings such as The Tower Grove House (1849) and herb garden, a Victorian country house designed by George Barnett in the Italianate Style and now the Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum has opened after extensive renovation.

Henry Shaw wanted the gardens to not be just specimens of plants, but wanted to awaken the human spirit with other artistic works. An early example was the 1883 dedication of marble busts of Carl Linnaeus, Thomas Nuttall and Asa Gray by Howard Kretschmar as Linnaeun House pediment ornaments. Throughout the years works by such luminaries as Jacques Lipschitz and Carl Milles were added to the Garden's collection and in recent years there were special exhibitions of works by Dale Chihuly, Niki de Saint Phalle, and there was a wonderful exhibition entitled "Chapungu: Nature, Man and Myth" which featured works carved by Shona artists of Zimbabwe. The Garden secured permanent works from these exhibitions.

And music often floats in the air from the popular Whitaker Music Festival every Wednesday night of the summer or during one of the festivals which takes place in the Garden such as the annual Japanese Festival or the St. Louis Chinese Culture Days.

The Garden was aglow with over a million dazzling lights illuminating the Garden's landscape and historic buildings during the winter holiday's "Garden Glow" and I hope you got to partake of "Flora Borealis,” the Garden's luminous interactive journey through breathtaking cinematic displays across the Garden's iconic space.

And let's not forget about the Peter Raven Library which is globally recognized as one of the most comprehensive libraries of botanical literature in the world.

And if all this isn't enough, you can take a trip to the Sachs Butterfly House or Shaw's Nature Preserve which are both part of the Garden and see even more.

The Missouri Botanical Garden is certainly one of St. Louis' crown jewels.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.