One of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s most spectacular spring shows is headed Off-Broadway, so to speak. Specifically, to Alfred Avenue, the site of a make-shift nursery housing more than 300 of the Garden’s azaleas and rhododendrons. Here, they await a public encore in the near future.
These showy, spring-blooming shrubs were moved to Alfred Avenue in 2020. Staff carefully dug out some of the rhododendrons by hand, while others were lifted out of the ground using a piece of machinery called a tree spade. Every plant that was considered to be in good health was saved. The roots were bundled in burlap and the plants were transported to this temporary space along the Garden’s western boundary, at Alfred and Flad Avenues.
Photos by Cassidy Moody, Tom Incrocci, and Andrew Wyatt
Some of the azaleas have already been rehomed in other spaces around the Garden. But most of the refugee rhododendrons will remain at the Alfred Avenue site during construction of the new Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center. The Taylor Visitor Center project includes a reimagining of the outdoor gardens that greet visitors—and will still very much include azaleas and rhododendrons.
While that bit of landscaping is still in progress, there are more than 1,000 other azaleas on Garden grounds for you to enjoy. The Japanese Garden and English Woodland Garden are particularly great places to see them in bloom in April. Even the transplanted azaleas are still on view, albeit from outside the Garden, by taking a short stroll down Alfred Avenue.
Photo of the Alfred Avenue nursery by Cassidy Moody.
A quick note: All azaleas are in the botanical genus Rhododendron, but not all Rhododendron are azaleas. We are using the terms interchangeably here, because many of the plants moved from the Lopata Azalea-Rhododendron Garden to Alfred Avenue are cultivars commonly referred to as azaleas.
Tree Preservation Zones
The Garden is going to great lengths to protect and preserve other aspects of our living collection during the visitor center project. Tree Protection Zones have been established around several large trees in the construction footprint, to keep heavy machinery from damaging their roots. This includes a large ginkgo tree just north of the Climatron and a stately sycamore. The ginkgo in particular will be featured prominently in the new landscape design.
Fencing set up to protect this century-old ginkgo near the Climatron. Photo by Cassidy Moody.
Finding New Purpose
One particularly large tree that could not be saved will instead find new life as part of the visitor center project. This massive Shumard oak was nearing the end of its life, and likely would have been removed as a safety hazard. Instead, a crew from Muerer Brothers Tree Care was able to preserve a 17-foot section of the trunk, which will be turned into seating in the new dining area in the visitor center.
The trunk section of a Shumard oak being crafted into new seating for the visitor center. Photo by Cassidy Moody.
Unfortunately, not every plant in the existing landscape was able to be moved, saved, or so dramatically repurposed. This sadly includes a dozen saucer magnolias just south of the former visitor center. These trees were too large to be moved, and would likely have been damaged by heavy machinery during construction.
But here again, we looked for ways to reimagine the landscape for the Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center. Where once there were 12 magnolias, soon there will be 14. And instead of a single type of magnolia, the new additions will represent additional species—making our living collection more diverse, and the display more dynamic.
Our Garden is Growing
The changes to the area containing the azaleas and magnolias are just one of several ways the plant displays near the new visitor center are being updated. Other changes include a large entry garden on the north side of the new building as you approach from the parking lot, and new entrances to the historic Linnean House and the Ottoman Garden.
The south side of the visitor center will also feature new vistas leading to the Climatron and updated plantings surrounding a new outdoor dining space. The project also includes a new public greenhouse focused on plants of the Mediterranean, accessible directly from the main building.
Many of the plants being added to the new outdoor spaces are being grown right now at the Oertli Family Hardy Plant Nursery, which is itself under construction just two miles south of the Garden in the Tower Grove South neighborhood. Not only will this new Garden facility will greatly increase our capacity to cultivate plants for display, it also provides us with state-of-the-art resources to care for and conserve threatened plants from around the world. Among the plants being cultivated there—azaleas, magnolias, and oaks.
For updates on the construction of the Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center, including live views of the site, please visit mobot.org/taylorcenter.
Senior Digital Media Specialist