Henry Shaw had made careful arrangements for the governance of his Garden after his death. Shaw wanted his Garden to be run as a first class botanical garden in order to provide knowledge and enjoyment to the people of St. Louis and the world for all time. Therefore, he was wary about turning over the ownership and control of the Garden to a single person, who might not share the same passion for gardening that he did. Once it had passed to an heir, there was no way that Shaw’s wishes could control its governance, and an individual heir could have changed the garden or even parceled it up and sold it off. On the other hand, Shaw did not trust politicians to care for his Garden either. He could have left it to the city or the state, but then its governance would be at the whim of voters and politicians, to be sacrificed to the greater good at the first sign of fiscal crisis.
During his lifetime, the Garden seems to have simply existed as a portion of Shaw’s personal estate without a separate institutional existence. In 1859, however, Shaw made a will that would create the Missouri Botanical Garden as a charitable trust upon his death. That is, he left the bulk of his property in this will to a Board of Trustees to be held in trust for certain purposes, specifically for the purpose of operating a Botanical Garden.
In Shaw’s will, therefore, he devised the bulk of his estate to a group of men, not for them to own outright, but for them to hold the property in trust for the purpose of running a botanical garden. In this way, the trustees would govern the use of the property, and such governance would have to be in accordance with the will he made. In that way, Shaw retained an element of control over his Garden even after he had passed on. The will states:
Whereas I have for many years been engaged in laying out and establishing a Botanical Garden, with a museum and library connected therewith upon a portion of the tract first described, and which is now known as the Missouri Botanical Garden, with the design at the time of my death to convey the same with other property to Trustees for the object and with the view of having for the use of the public a Botanical garden easily accessible, which should be forever kept up and maintained for the cultivation and propagation of plants, flowers, fruit and forest trees, and other productions of the vegetable kingdom; and a museum and library connected therewith, and devoted to the same and to the science of Botany, Horticulture, and allied objects...
In 1981, the Missouri Court allowed the Missouri Botanical Garden to restructure under a more modern trust document. The changes involved, however, reflect changes in business practices over the years, and did not alter the purposes of the trust.