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September 10, 2013 > Luther Burbank Gardens

Luther Burbank Gardens

By Pat Kite

Why? Luther Burbank created 113 plums and prunes, 10 strawberry types, 13 raspberries, 16 blackberries, four grapes, ten apples, eight peaches, 26 vegetable types plus 91 flowering plants, etc. The plums included the now ever-present Santa Rosa plum. The peaches: freestone. The flowers include the Shasta daisies that thrive in our gardens.

It took 17 years of cross-breeding small field-type daisies to get the beautiful flower, large-snow white daisy, he wanted. But when it came to plant creation, Luther was patience personified. He had been a plant lover since his Massachusetts childhood, smiling at plants even in the cradle. The thirteenth of 15 children, it is told that when a petal fell off a flower, he once tried, with chubby toddler fingers to put it back on again.

When his father died, 21-year-old Luther inherited a bit of money. He set about finding his own garden where he could do plant experiments. In the interim he worked in a factory, did odd jobs and saved a little money. In 1871, he developed a new type of potato, one not susceptible to the potato fungus that killed the mainstay Irish potato. At least a million people in Ireland died in the "Great Famine." Luther's potato? The Russet-Burbank or "Idaho", which helped revive Ireland's potato fields. Today's French fries often hark from Luther Burbank's work.

However, while experimenting with potato plants, Luther developed severe sunstroke. This led him to California, with its mild climate. Being a stranger in a strange land didn't slow him down. If he had to sleep in a chicken coop to conserve money for his dream farm, then he would... and he did. He settled in Santa Rosa. His continuing goal: making plants more useful for mankind.

Over the years, Luther worked on 2,500 plant species. When an experiment failed, sometimes people made fun of him. Onward. Three thousand experiments at once. Onward. "I love flowers, trees, animals, and all the works of Nature as they pass before us in time and space. What a joy life is when you have made a close working partnership with Nature, helping her to produce for the benefit of mankind new forms, colors, and perfumes in flowers which were never known before; fruits in form, size, and flavor never before seen on this globe...."

Luther Burbank Home & Gardens
Home, Greenhouse, Museum and Gift Shop
Tuesday - Sunday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
204 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa
(Santa Rosa Ave at Sonoma Ave)
(707) 524-5445
Tours available

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