Native Gardens in St. Louis, Missouri

I used to live in a rural area on Highway 100 near Pacific, Missouri. Highway 100 used to be part of the old historic Route 66. A few miles up the road from where I lived is one of my favorite places; the Shaw Nature Reserve. For many years it was called the Shaw Arboreum, but that was changed in 2000. The world-famous Missouri Botanical Garden, (formerly Shaw’s Garden after its founder Henry Shaw,) sits up in the city of St. Louis, not all that far from downtown. In 1925, the air pollution in the city was having an adverse effect on the garden’s orchid and exotic plant collection. The Garden decided to buy five working farms, a total of some 1,300 acres, and move the exotic plants out to the country where the air was cleaner. The Nature Reserve wasn’t open to the public until 1940, when Route 66 was built right in front of it. Since the 1970’s, the Reserve has expanded to 2,500 acres.

When I lived in Pacific I would walk the trails there two, sometimes three times a week. I would usually start in the Whitmire Flower Garden. I would get there real early in the morning, just as the sun was coming up and before anyone else arrived. There was a quiet little meditation spot underneath an oak tree and right next to a frog pond. I would spend about an hour there, listening to the occasional croak, sometimes reading my book. Then I would usually spend a couple of minutes sitting on a bench next to Mary before I took off on the trails. Mary was buried in the garden, or more likely the garden was built around her. Then it was off across the prairie grass to a lake ringed with Cypress trees, then on to a wooded area filled with deer. The great thing about the Reserve is the diversity of plants there. Every single habitat that is native to the central part of the country is found there, from the prairie to oak-hickory forests to wetlands to limestone bluffs.

Now Missouri and Illinois residents can match their gardens to what grows naturally in the area. The Shaw reserve and the Missouri Department of Conservation is sponsoring Native Plant School. The school, established last fall and held at the Whitmire Flower Garden , is a year-round program of classes designed to give you the hands-on knowledge and confidence to design and create your own native garden. Eventually, all of the information being covered in the classes will be put into a manual that will be available on the website, www.shawnature.org.

So far the classes have covered home gardening with native trees, shrubs, and vines, design concepts, and various methods for developing a native garden. Upcoming classes cover everything from “Native Plant Propagation” to spring-blooming woodland wildflowers to rain gardening and storm-water issues.

Fees for the classes are $12.00 for non-members and $8.00 for members of the Missouri Botanical Garden. For more information you can call the Reserve at (636) 451-3512.

Even if you don’t have a garden, take a stroll along one of the many trails or through the Whitmire Garden, and don’t forget to say hello to Mary for me when you’re there.

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