I arrived in Santa Rosa this afternoon and made a beeline for the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. It’s the site of the home and a test garden of the wildly prolific horticulturist Luther Burbank. I bought a ticket for the hourly tour.
Although not a household name, Burbank invented a number of common foods you can find at your local grocery store including russet potatoes and various types of plums, as well as flowers including the Shasta daisy. One of his more out of the box ideas was to create a spineless cactus (no spikes) intended to be used as cattle feed in dry climates.
The tour goes through some of his failings, in particular not graduating medical school, not being taken seriously as a scientist in spite of his achievements, and not being granted patents due to laws at the time.
Burbank was friends with some of his well known contemporaries including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Stanford University president David Star Jordan. This is all glazed over in the tour, but with the benefit of hindsight some of these men have a seriously tarnished reputation, including perhaps Burbank himself.
After the tour I went poking around the gardens. The tour guide, apparently finished for the day, noticed me and pointed out something truly strange. Part of the garden is still devoted to scientific research and a Ph.D student from UC Davis grew two separate trees and grafted their branches together. I’m not sure what this means but if she’s successful we might have a new horticultural expert working in Burbank’s old test garden.
My recommendation: If any of this sounds interesting, the guided tour is only ten dollars. It takes about an hour, and you get to set foot in Burbank’s original home on the property (a second home has since been demolished.) The gardens are free to visit and a hot spot for wedding and quinceanera photo shoots.