When jonquils poke their bright yellow ruffled faces along Highway 40 and crabapple blossoms burst forth in suburban yards, winter weary St. Louisans and folks from all over the United States flock to the Missouri Botanical Garden (fondly known as Shaw’s Garden) to revitalize their spirits and garner inspiration for their own gardens.
Philanthropist Henry Shaw left England at age 18, arriving in 1819 at a little French village along the edge of the Mississippi River, called St. Louis. By the time he was 40, he was one of the largest landowners in St. Louis and financially secure enough to embrace his dream of botany.
In 1859, he opened his spectacular 79-acre garden to the public. Today, a mausoleum statue adorns his gravesite, situated on the gardens he founded and surrounded by a grove of trees.
To this day, Shaw’s Garden is the nation’s oldest botanical garden in continuous operation, an oasis in the city of St. Louis and a center of science, conservation, education and horticultural displays.
There are classes and workshops for young and old, with tour options ranging from narrated tram tours to private walking tours. Special events include the Winter Orchid Show, Chinese Culture Days, the Green Homes Festival and the Whitaker Music Festival, a popular 10-week outdoor concert series. A fan favorite is the Japanese Festival, with candlelight walks through the 14-acre Japanese Garden, the largest traditional Japanese garden outside Japan.
St. Louisans often say, “If you don’t like the weather here, just wait a minute.” And it’s a truism, so predicting when any particular favorite flower will appear along the garden walks is a scientific crapshoot. Here are some hints:
» January and February: Bring your woolies and head for the Climatron. Built in 1960, it is the world’s first climate-controlled geodesic dome designed as a greenhouse. Here is also where you will enjoy the annual spectacular Orchid Show.
» March and April: Winter loves to play tricks on St. Louis in March, so be prepared for a late winter snowstorm to cover the 100-year-old evergreens and trees in the gardens, making for stunning silhouettes alongside frosty statuary. As spring settles in, you’ll be rewarded with dogwoods, peonies, magnolias, tulips, those perky ruffled daffodils, wisteria, a proliferation of blazing azaleas and so much more.
» May and June: Roses, roses, roses. Formal ones along manicured beds, espaliered beauties covering graceful wooden trellises and climbers meandering through white fences. On moonlit June nights, rose aficionadas enjoy cocktails and wine whilst smelling the roses. And don’t forget iris, those old-fashioned "flags" of rainbow hues.
» July and August: Hot weather and hot colors arrive with daylilies, black eyed susans, coneflowers, lotus and brilliant hydrangeas.
» September and October: Chrysanthemum lovers will delight in all the varieties blooming in the fall. Dahlias, cockscomb and asters also abound.
» November and December: The growing season comes to a standstill, but not the beauty of the garden. Heliotrope and the scarlet Japanese maple trees still lure visitors. A peaceful time to reflect on the coming of the new year when Mother Nature and the magic of Missouri Botanical Garden will begin all over again.
As a wise man or woman named Anonymous once put it, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.” And roses.