The Missouri Botanical Garden, founded by the British immigrant Henry Shaw in 1856, is considered to be one of the top botanical gardens in the world, and is located in the city of St. Louis. Officially opened to the public in 1859, the Botanical Garden has continued to be a well-renowned center for botanical research and science education. It is also the nation’s oldest botanical garden that is currently in operation, and has been labeled a National Historical Landmark for its historical significance.
The Missouri Botanical Garden is comprised of a vast 79 acres stretching across the heart of the city's Shaw Neighborhood (itself a testament to the impact Henry Shaw has had on the city of St. Louis). MoBot, as it is often called by locals, includes several international gardens, including the Chinese Garden, English Woodland Garden, Ottoman Garden, and Victorian District. One of its biggest attractions is the Japanese Garden which covers fourteen of the garden's 79 acres. In addition, the conjoined Climatron conservatory, which holds a tropical rainforest environment within its domed ceiling, and Temperate House, which is home to hundreds of Mediterranean species, attract many of the Garden’s viewers. Tucked away within the Temperate House is the Bible Garden, a modern-day interpretation of Henry Shaw's nineteenth-century interest in replicating the biblical landscape. The Missouri Botanical Garden also offers several programs, consisting of classes, tours, and workshops for kids, adults, and families alike. Not only are these programs meant to teach people of all ages how to garden, they are primarily in place to teach about sustainability techniques and plant conservation.
Although it is not overtly religious in its present form, Shaw's theological vision in creating the Missouri Botanical Garden instilled a legacy that continues to surface in various ways for visitors, curators, and researchers. In 1884, Shaw published a pamphlet of "Plants of the Bible at the Missouri Botanical Garden" that catalogued various species with biblical references. He did not here offer any interpretations beyond this compendium, but the pamphlet was published at a time when bible publishers throughout the U.S. were including encyclopedic historical and cultural addenda to the pages of the Holy Writ, partly in response to emerging critiques from within American Christianity as to the historical veracity of scriptural accounts. Whatever the specific motive may have been behind the 1884 pamphlet, Shaw, a lifelong Episcopalian and longtime member of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, saw the handiwork of God in his gardens. Among the philanthropist's final requests, in fact, was for an annual sermon to be held each year at Christ Church Cathedral “on the wisdom and goodness of God as shown in the growth of flowers, fruits and other products of the vegetable kingdom.” Today's garden reflects civic engagement within a diverse city and a transnational pursuit of environmental research, and as such there are several ways to interpret MoBot's history and significance within the city of St. Louis. Religion, however, remains a part of its story.
In February 2018, Arch City Religion students went to the Missouri Botanical Garden to explore the Bible Garden in the Schoenberg Temperate House. They collected audio, video, and photographs on the site to incorporate into their digital storytelling projects. Here is their audio postcard and a small selection of their photographs:
For more than a century, the Missouri Botanical Garden has intertwined the city's cultural, scientific, and religious stories, from Henry Shaw's 19th-century theological vision to 21st-century environmental theology and religious pluralism.
Researched and written by Abby Harris, Adaora Nnam, and Sydney Reynolds. Additional audio and visual materials by Arch City Religion, Spring 2018.
“‘Garden Sunday’ at the Cathedral.” "Garden Sunday" at the Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, 23 Apr. 2016, www.christchurchcathedral.us/event/garden-sunday-at-the-cathedral/.
Irwin, Kevin W. Preserving the Creation: Environmental Theology and Ethics. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1994.
"Missouri Botanical Garden." Missouri Botanical Garden. Accessed October 17, 2017. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org.
“Tours.” Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/visit/the-garden/tours.aspx.