ST. LOUIS – The Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the oldest continuous botanical gardens in the United States, founded by an Englishman who prospered on the frontier but found his surroundings there uncivilized.
"Uncultivated," wrote 18-year-old Henry Shaw in 1819 after he took a ride through the countryside around St. Louis and found himself overlooking a prairie. "Without trees or fences but covered with tall, luxurian grass, undulated by the gentle breeze of spring."
Shaw prospered in St. Louis, at first selling cutlery and hardware then expanding into commodities, real estate and furs. He retired before he was 40, continued buying property and decided to give the people of St. Louis a botanical garden like those in England and Europe. One of the most prominent American botanists, Dr. George Engelmann, heard about that project and persuaded Shaw to make it a public park with a collection of botanical specimens and a library.
The garden opened to the public in 1859, beginning the European tradition of horticulture display and education on American soil.
Originally, the site was 10 acres. Today, the Missouri Botanical Garden covers 79 acres, operates the world's most active tropical botany research program, has more than 41,000 members and is visited by more than 1.2 million people a year.
Admission for adults, ages 13 and older, is $8, but children younger than 13 are free, although they pay $3 to enter the Children's Garden where adults enter free. Everyone pays $3 for the narrated tram tour.
The garden is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas Day. In the summer, hours are extended on Wednesdays to 8 p.m. in the main garden and until 7 p.m. Wednesdays in the Children's Garden, where admission is free after 5 p.m. Also during the Niki exhibit, the garden is holding "Niki Nights" from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays.