Finding myself in St. Louis for the Sweet Adelines International 72nd Annual Convention & Competition [we came in 2nd place in the world for our division; you can see our performance here], I simply had to go to the Missouri Botanical Gardens. While writing about these prestigious gardens may not follow my regular content, I hope that it will inspire you to try some of the methods showcased. The Missouri Botanical Gardens is the nation’s oldest botanical garden in continuous existence. It is also registered as a national landmark.
History of the gardens
First, a quick history of Henry Shaw and his dream. As a young man, Henry Shaw came to St. Louis to sell tools and cutlery. He did very well for himself and became quite wealthy, expanding his business interests to include real estate, mining, furs, and other commodities. He retired when he was 39 and began traveling extensively, particularly enjoying the grand gardens of Europe. Returning to St. Louis, he decided to build a botanical garden of his own. As the idea evolved, it expanded to include botanic research and conservation, along with traditional gardening. The Gardens were opened in 1859 with the mission to “discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment in order to preserve and enrich life.”
What started out as open, undulating prairie is now home to nearly 5,000 trees, some of them directly attributed to plantings by Shaw, over 150 years ago. The 79-acre facility includes Shaw’s 1850 home, his mausoleum, nearly 7 million dried plant specimens, one of the world’s largest collections of orchids, and tens of thousands of live plants, nearly all of which are labeled, and it is all organized into several different gardens and displays. While I could list each of the gardens and tell you all about them, you can find that information online, at the Missouri Botanical Gardens website. Instead, I want to share with you the experience of walking around in this impressive collection, ending with a truly remarkable discovery.
When Shaw first came up with the idea of creating an immense public garden, I can only imagine the overwhelming scale of his thoughts. Looking at my own yard, I often find myself lost in all the tiny details of what needs doing, losing sight of the overall experience and view of my landscape. What I took away from the experience, among other things, includes:
Most of us grow plants in containers, but container gardens grow all the plants for a single recipe in the same, large container. For example, you may have a frittata container that holds scallions, summer savory, garlic, parsley, cherry tomatoes, spinach, chives, basil, and a sweet pepper plant, all in the same large container. A salsa garden may include tomatoes, onions, garlic, sweet and hot peppers, and cilantro. In each case, the variety of colors, shapes, and textures make these container gardens attractive, as well as useful.
I could go on, there is simply more to see than a person can do in a single day, but I would like to share my experience about a very special discovery that occurred during my visit.
A most amazing discovery
Wandering the gardens and trying to absorb and retain all that is there (an impossible task), I learned that the Peter H. Raven Library, housed in the Monsanto Bldg. and part of the Gardens has, in its collection, a first edition copy of Darwin’s The Origin of Species. Several emails and a fair measure of luck later, I found myself in a very special (and rather chilly) room in the Raven Library. With clean hands, I was allowed to handle some of the oldest botanical books known to mankind, including Darwin’s Origin and Carl Linnaeus’ earliest works. Then things got even more exciting, as I was allowed to turn pages in books written and bound in the 1700s, 1600s, and even the 1500s. It was a truly awe inspiring experience. It also reminded me of just how far we have come in just a handful of centuries.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!