Henry Shaw was determined to have not just a pleasure garden but also rather one of the finest botanic gardens in the world. In his quest to do so, he consulted Sir William Jackson Hooker, then the Director of the world’s premiere botanical garden, The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew not far from London. Shaw wrote to Hooker explaining his plans to build a garden in St. Louis seeking the eminent botanist’s advice. Hooker suggested that Shaw contact Dr. George Engelmann, a St. Louis gynecologist who was also a well-respected amateur botanist. In 1856, Engelmann had been one of the founders of the St. Louis Academy of Science. Engelmann had many contacts among American scientists and it was he, in turn, who put Shaw in contact with Harvard University’s Asa Gray, then America’s leading naturalist.
With the advice of Engelmann, Hooker and Gray, Shaw was convinced to build a botanical garden rather than merely a pleasure garden. The difference is that a botanical garden has facilities and personnel for scientific research in addition to beautiful grounds and plants. Historically, botanical gardens served the same role in the collection and study of plants that zoos played in the collection and study of animals.