Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Missouri Botanical Garden

 This landmark structure is known as The Climatron, and is often thought of as the iconic symbol of the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, Missouri.  It is described as the first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory, incorporating the principles of R. Buckminister Fuller, inventor of the geodesic system.   The Missouri Botanical Garden was founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw, and is the oldest botanical garden in continuous operation in the United States.   It is one of the few gardens to achieve National Historic Landmark status.  Besides being a stunning greenspace in the city of St. Louis, the Garden is also a  place of research, conservation, and learning. 
 Likewise, the Japanese Garden secton of the Missouri Botanical Garden has a special place in the hearts of many, because it has been the setting of so many memorable weddings and family celebrations.
 The lake in the Japanese Garden is surrounded by various landscaping attributes that make it pleasing to the eye, as well as serene to the inner soul.
 The Great Garden Adventures brochure that is free in the Visitor Center, lists fitness facts about walking, a map of the walking paths within the garden, and the estimated time it takes to complete each path.  Although I usually prefer to explore by walking, the temperature was a record-setting 105 degrees on the day of my visit, so I opted for the  narrated Tram Tour that takes you to the "back forty" of the Garden, and has various stops where one can get off and reboard the next tram.  It was well worth the four bucks it cost me! ( It is notable that wheelchair-friendly tours are available that are free with admission.)
 One of the tram stops is the Tower Grove House, which was the home of Henry Shaw in the 1800's.  Since it is not open every day, I was thrilled to see that it was open and available for touring (at no additional cost) on the day of my visit.  Plus, it was air conditioned!  There were docents inside that gave background on the home, its former occupants, and its furnishings.
 Adjacent to the Tower Grove House is this historic building, which used to be the museum on the property.  Its current use is for housing the restrooms in the basement, that are available to garden visitors.  The tram narrator indicated plans call for renovation of the structure, so that it could be rented out for special events.
 This beautiful Victorian Garden is located next to the Tower Grove House.  It is especially enjoyable to view from the second story of the home, because its colorful symmetry is more readily apparent from a higher elevation.
 Another tram stop is the Center for Home Gardening.  It was busy with activity on the day of my visit, not only because it was air conditioned, but also because there were groups of young people there, who were participating in some of the regularly scheduled youth activities the Garden offers.  You can log on to their website, , to see a complete listing.  I was surprised that some of the opportunities included overnights at the Garden, and the opportunity to actually climb into the tree tops of some of the ancient trees there!
 Other aspects of the Center for Home Gardening that I thought were well done, were the living examples (along with plant identification labels/explanations) that showed which types of indoor plants do best in which type of window---north, south, east, or west.  In addition, there were  volunteer Master Gardeners on site to answer questions.  Computers were also available to visitors to look up references on the Internet.
 There are multiple dining opportunities at Missouri Botanical Garden.  I tried out the Sassafras Cafe (photo on the left), and had a delicious Cobb Salad there.  The photo on the right side shows the Terrace Cafe that is located in the Center for Home Gardening.  Another restaurant offers Sunday brunches. 
 This collage shows just a few of the hundreds of items available in the Garden Gate Shop, located in the Visitor Center.  They stock plants (including a gorgeous collection of orchids!), seeds, fine gifts and clothing, collectibles, and garden accessories.  All proceeds benefit the Garden.  One can visit the Garden Gate Shop at any time during Visitor Center hours, even without a paid admission to the actual garden.  The same is true for the Sassafras Cafe. 
 There are special "Signature Events" that attract thousands of visitors to the Garden.  The first time I visited there was a few years back, when there was a special exhibit called "Chihuly in the Garden".  Some of the works of the famous American glass artist, Dale Chihuly, have become permanent installations.  The yellow "sunburst" hand-blown glass spires are outside on a garden archway, and the incredible blue chandelier is in the entry way of the Visitor Center. 
 The reason for my visit to the Garden last week was the Lantern Festival, which will be going on through August 19.  This amazing dragon "lantern" is the first installation you see, when you drive into the parking lot of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
 One of my favorite lantern scenes was the one called "Lotus Flower" near the entrance.  When I looked up information on Wikipedia about Lantern Festivals, I learned that there are many different beliefs about the origins of the Lantern Festival.  However, all of the theories had to do with celebrating positive relationships, both with one's fellow man, and with their "Higher Power".  For me, as a Christian, I was reminded of the Bible verse in John 8:12 which states  " Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, 'I am the light of the world.  If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light...' "
 Since the mission of the Missouri Botanical Garden is a commitment to sustainability and conservation, the lantern is this photo shows what can be done by recycling plastic water bottles.  The structure consists of thousands of empty water bottles, lined up in such a way as to represent the traditional Chinese ship design.
 This lantern was located in the Central Axis of the Lantern Festival, and showed off its beauty above the water, as well as in its reflection ON the water.
 The Central Axis was also the location of the Porcelain Dragons.  Periodically throughout the evening, the two dragons would engage in a "battle" where they sprayed "smoke" at each other, and moved their heads from side to side.
 Spraying smoke, and motion, would not be so unusual, except for the fact that the massive dragons were make from real porcelain (what we call "china"!).  Through an amazing network of wires and twine, porcelain plates, saucers, cups, and soup spoons had been strung together to create this remarkable sculpture!
 There were various Chinese-themed entertainment options available, in addition to viewing the lanterns.  One that I had never witnessed before was called "Sand Painting".  This was held in the Visitor Center's theater, where spectators were able to see on the large projection screen, the work that the Chinese artist was creating (using only his hands and sand) on the specially-designed electronic device, shown in the lower left of this collage.  The scenes that the sand artist created represented landmark images of places around the world where this particular type of Lantern Festival has been held.  According to the press releases, the one in St. Louis represents the first time such a Lantern Festival has been held in the United States. 
 There was SO MUCH to see and do at the Missouri Botanical Garden that my visit lasted longer than one day.  So therefore, I would like to tell you about a TERRIFIC place to spend the night in the area.  I stayed at the Crown Plaza in nearby Clayton, Missouri, ( ) where the amenities/accommodations were fantastic!  An overnight stay will give you an opportunity to see the myriad of attractions this metropolis offers, and you can start planning your next visit by logging on to  St. Louis boasts more free visitor attractions than any other city of its size in the United States!  So don't let a sluggish economy keep you from traveling!  Get out there and enjoy MILES OF SMILES!  Tricia
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