Missouri Botanical Garden is a must for natives and travelers

The Missouri Botanical Garden is considered one of the top botanical gardens in the country.

The first time I visited I understood why.

It was spring and there was a colorful blanket of tulips: ruby, orange, peach and pink, gold, yellow tulips with a red bases that swayed in the gentle breeze.

Large water lilies floated on fountains and ponds.  Blood orange poppies and purple and gold irises were in bloom.

But aside from stunning flowers and plants, there’s an amazing collection of sculptures, incredible architecture, educational events, and history all over the gardens.

After my first visit, I couldn’t believe that I’d lived in Missouri for 10 years at that point and had never visited this gem. Since that first trip, I’ve been back several times and am planning another jaunt this summer. If you’ve never been, you should plan a trip but expect to spend several hours there because there’s so much to take in.

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I’d also recommend a narrated tram tour of the park, which lasts about 30 minutes, costs $4, but is a good way to snake around the property, soak up the beauty and learn a little bit of the garden’s history.

Founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw, the Missouri Botanical Garden spans 79 acres and boasts 23 demonstration gardens and three conservatories.

The Climatron is the largest conservatory and it’s fascinating. The dome shaped building houses more than 2,800 plants, including 1,400 different tropical species.

I felt like I’d ducted into the tropics when I walked into the Climatron. The first thing that made me feel that way was the humidity, but then there were banana trees, cacao, spice plants, orchids, and exotic, rare plants such as the double coconut, which produces the largest seed in the plant kingdom.

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In 1976, the Climatron was named one of the 100 most significant architectural achievements in United States history.  It rises 70 feet in the center, buy has no columns and no interior support.

It provides a wonderful opportunity to see plants from the rainforests in Brazil to the jungles in Borneo, all without leaving Missouri. There’s so much to see, but I only lasted about an hour inside because of the humidity (it averages 85 percent humidity and 85 degrees in the day).

I also enjoyed the kaleidoscope of international gardens at the garden: Japanese (one of the most photogenic parts of the park); English (always whimsical); Chinese (whose architecture stood out more than the plants); Ottoman; Bavarian and German.

The serene, 14-acre Japanese garden was my favorite. The website says this is one of the largest Japanese gardens in North America. Photo opportunities abound here from cherry blossoms in the spring to stone features to arched bridges that are reflected on ponds below.

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There’s also lanterns of historic significance, including a snow-viewing lantern at the entrance that is preserved from the 1904 World’s Fair.

Another beautiful area at the Missouri Botanical Garden is the Victorian district which pays homage to the Henry Shaw, the garden’s founder.  You can also tour the Tower Grove House which was built in 1849 and was Shaw’s country residence.

I was also amazed at the number of beautiful sculptures — more than 50 –  that are peppered throughout the garden, including blown glass by artist Dale Chihuly. When you come into the visitor center, you’ll see the 928-piece “Missouri Botanical Garden Blue Chandelier” suspended in the atrium.  Pieces of his blown glass can be spotted at different areas of the park.

If you have a green thumb, then one of the many demonstration gardens are a must. The botanical garden hosts a variety of classes throughout the year, so if you are an avid gardener you can check the schedule and plan your visit accordingly.

And something I’ve never done but would love to do is the Whitaker Music Festival on Wednesday nights in the summer. Every Wednesday through July 29, there’s a free outdoor concert at the garden. You can bring your own picnic supper, baskets or coolers. Picnic fare, beer, wine, soda and sno-cones are also available to buy.  After 5 p.m. on those Wednesday nights, admission to the park is free. Music begins at 7:30 p.m.
It sounds like a wonderful way to spend a summer evening.

NOTE: All photos were courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden. This story was written for a publication for The Joplin Globe.

If you go:

Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis. Admission: $8 adults (ages 13 and older): Free for ages 12 and younger. Call (314) 577-5100. For more information: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/

Wear comfortable shoes and plan to spend several hours at the gardens.  They key is to try and go on a cool day and or head there first thing in the morning before it gets too hot.

Bring sunscreen and a camera.

The Missouri Botanical Garden features flower shows, live music and special events throughout the year. Visit the online event calendar to see what’s “growing on” at the Garden!

If you get hungry, the Sassafras Café has a surprisingly good lunch.

Special Event:

Also this summer is the “Lantern Festival: Magic Reimagined,” which is a beautiful evening Chinese lantern festival (I still recommend going in the day to see the garden).  Twenty two sets of lanterns will light up the Missouri Botanical Garden and will be constructed using traditional materials including silk, wire and porcelain.  Each set will be accompanied by interpretation detailing the design’s tradition, symbolism and meaning and some sets will incorporate recycled materials.

It is on display during select nights now through Aug. 23.  Open Thursday-Sunday evenings from May 23-July 31. Open 6 to 10 p.m. nightly from August 1-23.
Evening Admission for May 23 – July 31: $22 adults;  $10 children (ages 3-12).  Aug. 1-23: $26 adults; $10 children (ages 3-12). Discounts for Missouri Botanical Garden members.

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