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A Park and a Museum of History and Horticulture

posted Jan 10, 2012, 7:20 PM by Western Sonoma County Historical Society

Luther Burbank wanted more land than he already had at his nursery in Santa Rosa. He needed to plant the plum tree seedlings he had imported from Japan, so he bought 10 acres on a hill in the country outside of Sebastopol. He later added another 8, and here he had the room to cross the red-fleshed Japanese variety with 3 other plums, and ended up with the Santa Rosa Plum. It became the most widely planted plum tree and you can still buy its fruit at the market. Or plant one of your own.

By experimenting, using the techniques of hybridization, selection and grafting, Burbank created over 800 new types of plants. His ambition was to contribute food and beauty, and his imagination had no bounds. He admired the ox-eye daisy, considered a weed in his native Massachusetts. This gave him the idea to create a daisy that would be an addition to the home garden, with strong tall stems and a large flower that had petals as white as the snow on Mount Shasta. By combining the ox-eye with three other daisies from Europe and Japan, and spending about 20 years in the effort, the Shasta Daisy was introduced in 1901. It was a sensation.

Many varieties of the Shasta have been developed since, and are planted in the cottage garden at the Farm. Some are available for sale at Open House, April 16 & 17, 2011, along with old favorites like heirloom tomatoes, Burbank hybrid roses and lilacs. The lilacs are blooming in their pots, but you’d better hurry because there aren’t very many of them for sale. Burbank also created a white blackberry, in response to a challenge by a friend: “Bet you can’t create a colorless blackberry!” The ‘Snowball’ was Luther’s answer, and you can have one in your own garden. Burbank created the spineless cactus to be used as cattle fodder in the desert. It’s available at the plant sale as an (almost) harmless garden focal point that needs no watering. The Chilean Guava, a charming shrub that you can see next to the cottage, produces a delicious berry that tastes like strawberries! The Chinese quince, is a perfect specimen tree for a small yard.

After Burbank’s death in 1927, his widow sold most of the Farm where Burbank Heights and Orchards now stands. Three acres were left as a memorial to Burbank and they eventually became a Sebastopol city park. The Farm is maintained mostly by the labor of volunteers. Sales of plants, tours, and proceeds from the Mother’s Day Tea and Cemetery Walk in the fall pay for the many expenses.

Come and enjoy your park. Walk the paths through the huge trees planted 100 years ago by Luther Burbank. Learn his history in the display in the cottage. Beautify your garden with unusual plants not available at local nurseries. You’ll want to come back often.

By Erin Sheffield