A Garden Good Enough to Eat

While the Missouri Botanical Garden may be best known for its focus on plant conservation and horticultural beauty, what garden would be complete without vegetables?

Located at the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening, the Bank of American Family Vegetable Garden is a popular destination for horticulturists and herbivores alike. Among the most prominent of the Kemper Center’s 23 demonstration gardens, the vegetable garden regularly features a variety of fruits and vegetables commonly grown in the St. Louis climate and offers visitors a range of helpful information for starting and sustaining a vegetable garden at home.

The design of the garden changes with each season, according to horticulturist Sheila Flinchpaugh. This approach both keeps the vegetable garden interesting and continually provides visitors with fresh ideas for designing their own personal vegetable gardens.

Despite its name, the vegetable garden hosts not only fruits and vegetables, but also seasonal flowers. These flowers help keep the garden looking beautiful, and also serve a functional purpose by attracting pollinators.

“You should have seen it last fall,” Flinchpaugh says. “There were monarchs everywhere.”

Hybrids vs. Heirlooms

The vegetables planted in the garden represent a mix of hybrids and heirlooms.

Hybrid plants are created through controlled pollination in which the pollen of two species of varieties are crossed by humans. The first generation of the cross tends to grow better, with higher yields, due to hybrid vigor. However, seeds following that first generation are genetically unstable and cannot be saved. Hybrid plant seeds must be purchased each year.

Heirlooms are a plant variety that has a history of being passed down within a family or community. Though heirlooms must be open-pollinated by natural mechanisms or by humans, not all open-pollinated plants are classified as heirlooms.

Some of the heirlooms in the Kemper Center vegetable garden are purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Vegetable Garden Mastery

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A trio of young green Bell peppers, Capsicum annuum ‘Cajun Belle’, growing in the Bank of America Vegetable Garden in the Kemper Center. (Photo by Tom Incrocci)

The vegetable garden is maintained by Flinchpaugh, who manages the care of five demonstration gardens in total, with the help of Master Gardeners completing their volunteer hours.

The Master Gardener Program was established in 1983 in cooperation with University of Missouri Extension. Becoming a Master Gardener involves taking training classes in a variety of possible subjects, completing 40 hours of volunteer work and acquiring 10 addition hours of education during the same year they took initial training courses. Applicants to the program are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.

The program currently has approximately 300 active members, 200 of which specifically volunteer at the Kemper Center for Home Gardening.

From Our Garden(ers) to Yours

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Wind sculptures in front of the Kemper Center Building for Home Gardening. (Photo by Tom Incrocci)

While visitors can’t take vegetables from our garden home with them, they can use what they learn to get more from their own gardens.

Horticulturists and Master Gardeners working in the gardens are available onsite to answer questions, as are the Plant Doctors inside the Kemper Center building 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday to Saturday. Master Gardeners are also available to answer questions over the phone at (314) 577-5143 9 a.m. to noon from Monday to Friday.

Online resources are available in the form of factsheets, garden help FAQs and lists detailing common garden pests and problems.

Learn more about vegetable gardening

Morgan Niezing
Digital Media Intern

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