Monday, October 31, 2005

Shaw’s Garden: Tower Grove House Reopens

Henry Shaw's Victorian Landscapes: The Missouri Botanical Garden and Tower Grove Park , written by Carol Grove

Home of Famed St. Louisan Henry Shaw Reopens

Although the official name is the Missouri Botanical Garden, to many St. Louisans, it’s always been Shaw’s Garden. After all, the garden was established by Henry Shaw, the Englishman who came to St. Louis in 1819 and made his fortune selling hardware, tools and cutlery that would be needed by the pioneers passing through the frontier town known as the Gateway to the West.

Now, after being closed for renovations for several years, Tower Grove House, the country home Henry Shaw lived in while he planned his legacy to the city of St. Louis and the world – the Missouri Botanical Garden – is once again open to the public. This time, Tower Grove House (named for its observation tower overlooking a grove of oak and sassafras trees which are still near Shaw’s mausoleum) reflects the essence of the man who was Henry Shaw when he lived there and planned what would become a world-renowned botanical garden.

Shaw, a frugal yet practical man, felt that he had made enough money at age 39 and retired. According to historical records, a fellow business acquaintance of Shaw’s wrote: “He retired, not because he was afraid of losing what he had made, or thought he could not make any more; but because he felt he had enough, and intended to enjoy it. He always owned his money; his money never owned him.”

With funds and time at his disposal, Shaw embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe and visited some of the finest gardens in the world, including the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the gardens at Chatsworth, the Duke of Devonshire's country seat in Derbyshire.

It is thought that while visiting Chatsworth Gardens, Shaw was inspired to create an important garden on his properties back in St. Louis. He owned 1,800 acres in what is now south St. Louis and in 1851 began to develop what is considered America's oldest botanical garden.

In a historical footnote, the gardens almost were never built. In 1859, Shaw made headlines when a St. Louis woman named Effie Carstang claimed that Shaw had promised to marry her and then backed out. She sued him for breach of promise and initially won a judgment of $100,000, but Shaw later won on appeal. If he had lost, he probably wouldn’t have had enough money to fund the gardens.

Shaw, a lifelong bachelor, never married anyone. He always said his true love was his garden. In a story reported in the Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden:

“ . . . Mr. Shaw was escorting a lady visitor through the Garden, and pointing out to her the various rare plants and flowers he knew so well and watched so fondly. She said to him, ‘I cannot understand, sir, how you are able to remember all these different and difficult names.’ ‘Madam,’ he replied with a courtly bow, ‘did you ever know a mother who could forget the names of her children? These plants and flowers are my children. How can I forget them?’”

Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the oldest botanical institutions in the country and a National Historic Landmark. In 2004, the garden received the Garden of Excellence award from Horticulture Magazine and the American Public Garden Association. 79 acres of beautiful horticultural display, including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, the Climatron® conservatory, and Garden founder Henry Shaw's original 1850 estate home.

Source: Missouri Botanical Garden

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