Western Trips

Western Trips

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Luther Burbank / Horticultural Societies

luther burbank home and gardens
Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
We have another excellent stop to add to your Sonoma County California wine country tour. It's the highly popular Luther Burbank Home and Gardens located in the downtown area of Santa Rosa California.

Santa Rosa is the county seat of Sonoma County and located about 60 miles north of San Francisco on US Hwy 101. Santa Rosa is surrounded by wonderful vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms which make it a great place to visit.

The Luther Burbank site consists of three structures at the four acre site originally purchased by Burbank.  The Luther Burbank Home is a modified Greek Revival structure where Burbank lived from 1884 to 1906. Burbank's widow, Elizabeth, moved to the cottage from another house they built nearby after his death and kept the original furnishings and many interesting artifacts.

Touring the Gardens

The second structure is the Carriage House. This of course was originally used to store carriages. It went under renovation in 1986 and is now a museum. The museum has various quite interesting exhibits as well as a gift shop. It's also where you can register for tours.

The third building on the property is the Greenhouse. Luther Burbank designed and built the greenhouse himself. When you visit the greenhouse you'll also see a replica of his office and many of Burbank's tools.

Luther Burbank

luther burbank home
Luther Burbank Home
Luther Burbank can be said to be Santa Rosa's most world renown figure. Many referred to Burbank as Santa Rosa's "favorite son". He was also sometimes referred to as "the plant wizard", a name which it was said he didn't particularly like.

Luther Burbank was America's premiere botanist and horticulturist pioneer. His achievements in cross breeding plant varieties were second to none.

Born in Massachusetts in 1849, Luther Burbank ended up spending 54 years in Santa Rosa.

 It's been said that many of the scientists of his day criticized Burbank because he supposedly didn't keep the kind of records that the science community liked to see in those days. Burbank was known to be more concerned with the results he obtained rather than keeping more detailed logs. Regardless, Luther Burbank received grants from none other than Andrew Carnegie to help fund his work on crossbreeding plants. According to various Burbank biographies, Carnegie provided the grants despite reservations from a few of his advisers because of their displeasure with Burbank's methods.

Burbank's Achievements

Over his lifetime, Luther Burbank introduced more than 800 new varieties of plants, over 200 varieties of fruits and a large variety of nuts, vegetables, nut grains and ornamental flowers. His esteemed status brought many visitors to his home and gardens during his lifetime. Included were relatively close neighbors such as Jack London who resided just to the southeast of Santa Rosa outside of Sonoma California.

 London's residence and grounds are now the Jack London State Historical Park. It's a good combination road trip along with the Luther Burbank site. The list of visitors to travel to Santa Rosa to see Burbank at the turn of the century is a veritable list of the who's who of the era. They include William Howard Taft, King Albert of Belgium, William Jennings Bryan, John Muir, John Burroughs, and Edwin Markham.

In addition to this, during the 1906 National Education Week Convention week in San Francisco, the local Santa Rosa California newspaper, The Press Democrat, reported that some 2,000 visitors were expected at the Burbank home and gardens. The city of Santa Rosa gained a lot of attention with Burbank's presence and, according to the book "Santa Rosa: A Nineteenth Century Town", a special souvenir Burbank spoon was cast, designed by Santa Rosan John Plover and offered for sale in John Hood's jewelry store. If you have an opportunity to find this book, it's a great read and filled with a plethora of Santa Rosa history. The book has four authors. Gayle LeBaron, Dee Blackman, Joann Mitchell and Harvey Hansen.

luther burbank greenhouse
Burbank Greenhouse
According to several history books of Santa Rosa California, Luther Burbank advertised himself as "the nurseryman south of the iron bridge".

Santa Rosa was known as an excellent area for agriculture and when the railroad came through town business was booming. Santa Rosa was a large agricultural shipping center.

 Burbank had an interesting observation concerning agriculture in the area. He was quoted as saying, " The region of Santa Rosa at the time of my coming was preeminently a wheat country and the farmers in general were far more interested in cereals than in fruit of any kind". There were exceptions to the rule and an eager young Luther Burbank enjoyed working with them.

Essentially, Luther Burbank's ideas and methods changed the face of agriculture both around Santa Rosa and Sonoma County as a whole.

Another interesting story about Luther Burbank was his supposed belief in supernatural powers, at least in regards to plants. Some said that Burbank had a mystical personality. He vaguely referred to a communication with plants. Even those who didn't necessarily believe in the power of plants as a spiritual healing vehicle, at least not to the degree many thought Burbank believed, were still dumbfounded when most of downtown Santa Rosa was demolished in the big earthquake of 1906 and Burbank's new greenhouse was barely touched.

Honors Bestowed

During Luther Burbank's lifetime he received a large number of degrees and was involved in social organizations. Burbank was a member of the Bohemian Club, a very elite and prestigious club with members being the most notable and powerful people of the era. His neighbor, Jack London, was a member of the Bohemian Club which had annual gatherings each summer in western Sonoma County California.

Luther Burbank received a Doctor of Science degree from Tufts College and the California Academy of Sciences named him an honorary member. In the year 1905, the California Association of Women's Clubs lobbied successfully to have Luther Burbank's birthday, March 7th, declared Arbor Day in California.

The Santa Rosa Property

luther burbank exhibits
Luther Burbank Exhibits
The historic Luther Burbank property shown in the photos on this page was given to the city of Santa Rosa by Burbank's widow when she passed in 1977.

The site is managed by the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens Association, a non-profit. Luther Burbank also owned a farm in the town of Sabastopol California which is only a few miles west of Santa Rosa and a short drive.

Luther Burbank bought the farm site in 1885. The farm is called the Gold Ridge Experiment farm and was originally as large as eighteen acres when owned by Burbank. Today, three acres remain of this historic site.

The main reason Burbank purchased the Sabastolpol land was simply that he needed more room to conduct his experiments than what the Santa Rosa property allowed. The second reason was it's location. Sabastopol California is relatively near the Pacific coast. In this part of California you can have marked climate changes in areas not too far apart. This is all because of the ocean's influence. As an example, Santa Rosa California could have a sunny day and at the exact same time the coast, about twenty miles away, could be socked in with fog. The weather in Santa Rosa California can be very much different than a location perhaps fifteen miles closer to the Pacific.

There is no question that the climate at the farm site, to some degree, is a bit different than what Burbank might have experienced when working on his experiments. To give you an idea of just how busy Burbank's Gold Ridge Farm was, during it's peak time of operations, the farm had 60,000 experiments in the works and a crew of from fifteen to twenty workers. The Gold Ridge Farm is located at 7781 Bodega Ave. about 1 mile west of Main Stree) in Sebastopol  The site is open to the public. Gold Ridge Farm is owned by the city of Sabastopol and is operated by the Western Sonoma County Historical Society.

Visiting Sonoma County

cactus in burbank gardens
Large cactus in Burbank Gardens
When enjoying a California vacation and you have the opportunity of visiting California's beautiful Sonoma County, you will have a grand time touring the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens and have the chance to learn much more about America's most famous botanist.

 Two excellent Sonoma County side trips to combine with a visit to Santa Rosa would be the Jack London State Historical Park just outside of the town of Sonoma and the other would be the historic Buena Vista Winery, also just outside Sonoma California. The Buena Vista Winery is considered Sonoma Counties very first commercial winery.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

Location of Santa Rosa California

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