Do you ever wonder about how fashion designers dress when they’re at the grocery store? Or how an interior designer decorates her own home? Strolling through the tranquil landscape of the Missouri Botanical Garden, the question is bound to come up eventually: What does the Garden president’s own backyard escape look like? LN got an exclusive tour, and these pages share the beauty of Peter Wyse Jackson’s personal garden.
Wyse Jackson’s home is situated atop a hill, and the backyard terrace overlooks the grounds—highlights of which include a diverse variety of trees, shrubs and flowers with informal paths winding through the greenery, as well as a small creek and pond, all inhabited by a healthy smattering of wildlife. “I certainly enjoy sitting on the terrace,” Wyse Jackson says when asked where he spends his rare moments of peace and quiet. “I feel it’s a great privilege to sit under two surviving American elms—because there aren’t many left.”
As you would expect of a botanist, Wyse Jackson has been putting his own stamp on his home garden since he moved to St. Louis some three years ago. “I have a great interest in fruit trees, so we have planted quite a lot of new fruit trees,” he says. “Some of them are unusual like quince and medlar, but there also are more typical ones like apple trees, peach trees, gooseberries, black currants and white currants, and so on.” Most of them haven’t reached maturity to start producing much fruit, but when they do, Wyse Jackson already has plans: “I like to collect the fruit and use them for my modest culinary experiments.”
The fruit trees line the hill leading down from the terrace. At its base, a bald cypress arches over a pond, with characteristic Cypress knees (structures that look like roots) jutting out from its edges. “When people ask me what they’re for, I say, I don’t know—in fact, nobody knows,” Wyse Jackson says. “They may play some role in helping to mitigate the problems from the tree growing in water-logged conditions. They also may help in keeping the tree upright. There’s also the possibility that they were important at some time in the evolution of the tree.” Whatever their use, the end result is a dramatic visual effect.
Wyse Jackson says one of his favorite aspects of his garden is that there’s something new around every corner. “I enjoy that it has a great diversity of trees and shrubs. There are lots of treasures. I go into the shrubbery and look around, and say, I didn’t know we had one of those!”
As in the Missouri Botanical Garden itself, each season brings its own delights. “In the spring, it just looks glorious; but I do enjoy it in the winter when you can see its structure, with the leaves off the trees and the snow on the ground. It’s picturesque. I could pass on some of the really hot days in August, though,” he jokes. “Being an Irishman, I’m not used to the St. Louis heat in August—even now—so the garden doesn't get as much of my attention then.”
If not the summer heat, one thing about St. Louis that Wyse Jackson has really come to love is the wildlife. He recalls a mother goose and her mate who made his pond their home this spring. “I do regard it that we share the garden with the wildlife,” he says. “Just a few weeks ago, I was in London, and I stepped into the garden of the house we were in early in the morning, and there was complete silence. At first, I thought something was wrong, and I realized I've got used to St. Louis, where there’s a cacophony of songbirds and wildlife. It’s such a treasure—and something I deeply enjoy—that we often take for granted in St. Louis.”