Those of us who live in Sonoma wine country are familiar with Luther Burbank, if only because of our allergies. This is the place where Luther Burbank settled and went on to cross breed so many new plants that the pollen count is through the roof. Meanwhile, nearly everyone in the US has benefited from Burbank’s experiments. Here’s a snapshot, which explains a bit about the Bounty of our Sonoma County. As the thirteenth of fifteen children, Luther Burbank was born on March 7, 1849, in Lancaster, Massachusetts.
Luther Burbank in Green Valley at his Gold Ridge Experiment Farm
Luther Burbank is considered to be the hidden gem of Sebastopol, California residents. The Luther Burbank’s Gold Ridge Experiment Farm is a living museum, where the plant breeder of his era created many of his contributions.
It was 10 years after arriving in California that Luther Burbank bought the 18-acre Gold Ridge Farm, on Bodega Avenue in Sebastopol, California, in 1885. He was needing more space for his experiments, and this location seemed to be ideal. At any one time, he was known to have as many as 3,000 experiments underway. He would bicycle from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol, an eight mile journey in one direction, and stay at his farm two to three nights every week. In this country setting, Luther Burbank worked tirelessly from dawn to dusk. He continued to conduct many of his experimental introductions of over 800 varieties of fruits, flowers, vegetables, nut trees, and grains.
It was in the time of his Green Valley Gold Ridge farm days that Burbank’s fame really took off. With his 1893’s New Creations in Fruits and Flowers plant catalog, word began to circulate. With subsequent ones continuing his success, the name of Luther Burbank was well on its way. Word of mouth from satisfied customers, as well as media stories that were written about him, kept him in the news throughout the first decade of the century. From 1904 through 1909, Burbank’s efforts were then personally supported by Andrew Carnegie, who also involved his Carnegie Institution. Burbank received several grants from Carnegie, against the consult of Carnegie advisers at the time. Their objection was that Burbank was not a scientific academic in the methods he used for hybridization. No one told Andrew Carnegie what to do, however, when he was on a mission, and Carnegie was on a mission. It was Carnegie who wrote an article entitled, The Gospel of Wealth. This story described the responsibility of philanthropy by this new upper class of self-made, rich industrial pioneers of the time. Carnegie proposed that the best way of dealing with the new phenomenon of wealth inequality that was created, was for the wealthy to redistribute their surplus means in a responsible and thoughtful manner.
What Luther Burbank was doing to increase the world’s food supply fit Carnegie’s criterion, and he supported this important botanist. Other industrialist luminaries were similarly drawn to Luther Burbank. For instance, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford also became Burbank friends, with both men having visited Burbank at his Santa Rosa home; as well as Jack London, Edgar Lucien Larken, Harvey Firestone, Helen Keller, President Taft, and John, Muir.
Paramahansa Yogananda, a friend and admirer, wrote in his Autobiography of a Yogi:
His [Luther Burbank] heart was fathomlessly deep, long acquainted with humility, patience, sacrifice. His little home amid the roses was austerely simple; he knew the worthlessness of luxury, the joy of few possessions. The modesty with which he wore his scientific fame repeatedly reminded me of the trees that bend low with the burden of ripening fruits; it is the barren tree that lifts its head high in an empty boast.
Burbank considered Sonoma County as the chosen place on earth to grow and experiment with plants, that would come to benefit mankind, with of his most important experiment, being conducted in Green Valley at his experimental Gold Ridge farm.
Luther Burbank’s Legacy
In 1903, at the opening meeting of the American Breeders’ Association in St. Louis, Missouri, Burbank was unanimously elected to honorary membership.
From Luther Burbank’s Plant Contributions, by Walter L. Howard, University of California, Bulletin 691, March 1945
Introduced by Luther Burbank POTATO: ‘Burbank’ FRUITS: 113 Plums and Prunes, 10 Different Apples, 16 Blackberries, 13 Raspberries, 10 Strawberries, 35 Fruiting Cacti, 10 Cherries, 2 Figs, 4 Grapes, 5 Nectarines, 8 Peaches, 4 Pears, 11 Plumcots, 11 Quinces, 1 Almond, 6 Chestnuts, 3 Walnuts GRAINS, GRASSES AND OTHER FORAGE: 9 Different kinds VEGETABLES: 26 Different kinds ORNAMENTALS: 91 Different kinds.
Luther Burbank’s legacy also continues, with the celebration of his birthday being annually recognized as Arbor Day. Trees are still being planted in his memory. It was also Burbank’s legacy that inspired Santa Rosa’s annual Rose Parade, which celebrates his memory and showcases the people and talents of the Santa Rosa area. Luther Burbank Home and Gardens was also named as a Registered National, State, City, and Horticultural Historic Landmark.