The botanical garden: the new hub for sustainability

When my wife and I decided to buy a house in St. Louis, we wanted something older, with a little character… and easy access to the Missouri Botanical Garden. We found what we wanted… a mere two blocks from the US’ oldest continuously operated garden. MOBOT isn’t just a great place to escape the urban environment… it’s also become St. Louis’ premiere institution for promoting sustainability and green living. Now, I’m just as likely to spend my time in the Kemper Gardening Center for tips on better maintaining my little organic garden as I am enjoying the view in the Japanese garden.

According to the New York Times, MOBOT isn’t unique in that regard. Botanical gardens around the country are realizing that more and more visitors aren’t necessarily interested in just looking at pretty flowers and plants: they want insight into food gardening, local agriculture, green living, and wellness. So these (often conservative) institutions are getting the message, and shifting away from flower shows, and toward local food cooking demonstrations with ingredients from your home garden. Some of the trends emerging:

  • Native plants and low-water landscaping: As issues such a biodiversity and invasive species receive more attention, botanical gardens are making shifts in their own planting. Descanso Gardens in LA, for instance, is removing camlias from its “fantasy forest,” realizing that the water-intensive plants were killing the trees.
  • Local food: At MOBOT, the annual Best of the Missouri Market is a huge draw… and we always find some really tasty local goodies that we had no idea existed. The Cleveland Botanical Gardens now host the RIPE! Food and Garden festival in September. The Fairchild Tropic Botanic Garden hosts its local food celebration in April, with cooking demonstrations and a farmers’ market.
  • Sustainability education: At MOBOT, these efforts largely (but not completely) revolve around the Earthways Center, a green rehabbed Victorian-era home. At the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, the new children’s garden features a chicken coop where kids can harvest eggs, and a wind-powered weather station. And the LEED-certified Children’s Village at  the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens features a “solar-powered discovery lab.

I’m just scratching the surface here, no doubt… what’s the botanical garden in your area doing to promote greener, healthier lifestyles?


Image: St. Louis’ famous Soulard Market at the Best of the Missouri Market Credit: Courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden