Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Chosen Spot 1: Luther Burbank Gardens

This New Years Day, an hour before dusk, I visited the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa for the first time, after passing signage for decades on Highway 101 marking the historical landmark.

Burbank, born in 1849, was a poor boy from a huge family in rural Massachusetts. His father died when he was 21 and Luther used his patrimony to buy his own farm and experiment with horticulture, at which he turned out to be one of the intuitive geniuses in world history.

With the $150 he made from selling the rights to his new Burbank Russet potato, which we are still eating now, Luther moved to Santa Rosa in 1875 and bought land for a small experimental farm which is where his home and Memorial Garden still stands in downtown.

For the next fifty years, Burbank created hundreds of new strains of fruits, potatoes, cacti, and flowers, becoming an admired worldwide celebrity while earning the scorn of professional academics. His Wikipedia entry notes:
"Burbank was criticized by scientists of his day because he did not keep the kind of careful records that are the norm in scientific research and because he was mainly interested in getting results rather than in basic research. Jules Janick, Ph.D., Professor of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University, writing in the World Book Encyclopedia, 2004 edition, says: "Burbank cannot be considered a scientist in the academic sense."

In 1916, Burbank married his much younger second wife Elizabeth Waters above, and after his death in 1926, she continued living in their home until 1977, commissioning a beautiful, Arts and Crafts Movement style memorial garden in the 1960s from local landscape architect Leland Noel which is featured in the first two photos above.

There is a metal sculpture of a lotus with a sundial in the garden by Harry Dixon (1890-1967) from the same Arts & Crafts movement, and the daily free admission to the gardens, the inexpensive plant sales, and the general vibe is welcoming and lovely.

It's easy to believe the characterization of Burbank by a friend of his, Paramahansa Yogananda, who wrote in his Autobiography of a Yogi:
"His 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."


AphotoAday said...

Hi Mike,
Say, that last photo--I'm guessing it's one of the many varieties of "spineless cactus" Burbank developed. Hate to admit that I've actually never been to Burbank's home, or the growing grounds on the other side of town--for no good reason, as I've passed through and attended to business in Santa Rosa countless times over the years.
However, I HAVE been to Jack London's ranch, and there is still some of Burbank's spineless cactus there. As I remember, the idea was to make it suitable for cattle feed, but as I remember from reading the informational sign at Burbank's ranch, there was a problem (and darn it, I've forgotten why). Spineless cactus never became a success on Jack London's or any other cattle ranches. Sounds like it would have been a great idea though. Spineless cactus -- yummy...

Civic Center said...

Dear Donald: Yes, Burbank's spineless cactus was invented for cattle in desert areas to munch on. Next time you're driving by the Santa Rosa area, do stop in and take some photos. The place is right downtown. I didn't really do justice to the charm of the place, partly because I was running out of light. And it's free admission 365 days of the year.

janinsanfran said...

I once attended a terribly fancy wedding in that space. Kind of scary opulence ...

Garden sculptures said...

I like it Mark, good job. I like that her eyes and lips are still the color that they actually are. I don't really like the idea of changing a photo in a way that doesn't even make the person look like themselve, same goes for certain landscapes. Sometimes it is just nice to have a photo memory of what it actually looked like. I still need to do some more manual reading, it's just so exciting to get out and use it!! I'm taking some pictures of my beautiful friend Kara on Saturday, maybe I'll get some reading in before then. Thanks for taking the time to adjust my pic!

Garden sculptures