Luther Burbank was America’s preeminent horticulturalist and his historic work is one of the reasons we have the tree and plant and vegetables we enjoy today. The Burbank flowers are some of the world’s most beautiful displays.
Luther Burbank conducted his experiments in primarily two locations, both in the region north of San Francisco California. In Santa Rosa California about 60 miles north of the Goldengate Bridge was the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. The second location was in Sebastolpol, about 10 miles due west of Santa Rosa and much closer to the Pacific coast. We’re very fortunate that the historic societies have preserved these two sites for all to enjoy. Both locations are in Sonoma County California, one of the most scenic county in the state. The Luther Burbank Home and Gardens is located at 204 Santa Rosa Avenue in downtown Santa Rosa, CA. You’ll enjoy touring this site if your California trip takes you up to the Sonoma wine country. Gold Ridge Farm in Sesastopol is located just north of Bodega Highway and about a half mile west of the town’s downtown area. Gold Ridge Farm is very unique for several reasons.
Even though the distance from Burbank’s home in Santa Rosa was only about 10 miles east of Sebastopol, the climate was different. Being closer to the pacific Ocean meant that Sebastopol had a generally cooler climate than Santa Rosa. Climate of course is very important to anyone growing trees and plants and for Burbank’s experiments it meant a difference.
Some of Luther Burbank’s plant breeding achievements are truly remarkable. During his life Burbank developed over 800 strains and varieties of plants. These included over 100 varieties of plums and prunes. and over 50 varieties of berries and much more. At any one Burbank managed some 3,000 experiments involving millions of plants.There was the Burbank potato in 1871 and later the Burbank russet. It was said he sold the rights for the Burbank potato and used the proceeds to help build his home and gardens and farm in Sonoma County California. Luther Burbank had originally been from New England.
When Luther Burbank purchased the Gold Ridge Farm, that had already been the farm’s name and he chose to keep it. Burbank however referred to the farm as an Experiment or the Experimental Farm. Today, it’s commonly referred to as The Luther Burbank Experimental Farm. While Luther Burbank always kept his residence in Santa Rosa, he journeyed to the farm by bicycle or by horseback. The distance being about 10 miles or so. At his site from 1886 until his death in 1926, Luther Burbank had the climate, soil and enough space to experiment with plantings of trees and fruit as well as grapes, vegetables, shrubs, bulbs and more. When Burbank purchased Gold Ridge Farm, the area was about 10 acres. In regards was to the climate, Burbank had stated that the climate in Sebastopol was more favorable for growing some types of plants and to conduct his plant cross breeding experiments. Trees that covered about two-thirds of the area were cleared to make way for Burbank’s experiments. In 1904, an additional 5 acres were added to the farm. At the time, Burbank marveled at the scenery of the area with the valley and Mount St. Helena to the west and the gentle slopes of beautiful Sebastopol.
To highlight a few of the hybrid plants now to be seen at Gold Ridge Farm, the photo at left is Trifoliate Orange, This is a Chinese hybrid, used by Luther Burbank. It is a very thorny plant. Mr. Burbank thought he could work with this plant to improve its fruit. He thought that the trifoliate orange’s ability to withstand harsh cold winters would allow it to be grown in the Midwest. Unfortunately, Luther Burbank gave up his citrus experiments when his entire citrus orchard was destroyed by three bad winters in a row. He determined that if Sonoma County California could have winters this rough on the trifoliate orange, it would be extremely difficult for this fruit to withstand the heavy snows and low temperatures of the Midwest. Climate was a key consideration in plant cross breeding.
Another interesting creation of Luther Burbank was the Shasta Daisy or “Crazy Daisy”. Luther Burbank loved the oxeye daisies that grew in front of his early family home in Massachusetts. Many years later, Burbank was inspired to develop these wildflowers for use as garden flowers. He began by cross-pollinating the oxeye daisy with the English field daisy. Burbank then dusted the best of his hybrids with the Portuguese field daisy.
The result was very good but to have brighter flowers Burbank then pollinated them with the Japanese field daisy. The Shasta daisy hybrids were finally introduced in 1901 after 17 years in development.
The fact is, the work and experiments of Luther Burbank gave us a great many of the tree, fruit and vegetable varieties we enjoy today. One of Burbank’s goals was to increase the world’s food supply by manipulating the characteristics of plants. This he succeeded in doing. Luther Burbank ranked with the best scientists and mechanical developers of the America. Burbank was a friend of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford and both men visited at the Burbank home in Santa Rosa California. When Luther Burbank passed away in 1926 he was buried near his greenhouse on the grounds of his home.
Another article you’ll want to read is a tour of the Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa. Included are photos of the site. Another fun Sonoma County wine country stop is the historic town of Healdsburg California, just about 15 miles north of Santa Rosa on U.S. Hwy 101.
Both Santa Rosa and Sebastopol California have honored the work accomplished by Luther Burbank with the designation of highways, schools and entertainment venues in his name.
If your western trip takes you near to or near Sonoma County California, I think you’ll want to include a visit to both the Luther Burbank Gold Ridge Farm in Sebastopol and the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa to your trip planner. There’s many of fun and interesting places to explore in Sonoma County, and these two historic sites are good examples.
(Photos are from author’s private collection)