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12 February 2010

The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

Jane S. Smith Author
Penguin (Non-Classics) (February 23, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0143116894
ISBN-13: 978-0143116899

Jane Smith gave a presentation to the Southern California Horticultural Society on her recently published (and soon to be published in paperback) book, The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants. I wish my UCLA Extension propagation class had been there. I bought the book, however, so everyone should expect to be regaled with stories from it over the coming weeks.

Burbank, before the world in general had grasped the implications of Mendel and Darwin's work, was busy putting his intellect into the art of breeding plants. He proved to be a genius at it and the catalog of his introductions over his lifetime is staggering! We owe to him the Burbank potato (over 150 years after its' introduction, it is still the most widely planted potato in the world); Shasta Daisy, a plant with four parents and a staple in cottage gardens world wide; and the Santa Rosa plum (and others) which is probably still the standard against which all red plums are gaged to this day. And MANY more!

His home in Santa Rosa, CA (hence the names of the plum and the daisy) is almost like going to Mecca for those gardeners who admire Burbank's work. This book, not so much a biography of the man as it is directed at his plant breeding, is perfect to understand the motives and the actions of Burbank, who still stirs controversy today. Some folks call him a huckster, some folks call him a charlatan. Others count Luther Burbank a hero and an extraordinary genius, up in the pantheon with Mendel, Darwin and others working in this field.

One story that I thought would be wonderful for a propagation class, involved a banker who had purchased a quantity of land that he wished to plant into orchards of plums. In February, he placed an order for 120,000 plum trees to be delivered that November. Burbank accepted the order and set about to fulfill it.

He planted fields of almond trees, a very fast growing tree in the same family and closely related to the plum. In late summer, Burbank grafted plum buds to all those trees which were dug and sold that November.! Not only was is it quite a cash windfall that Burbank could use, good reputations have been built on a lot less! It heaved Burbank's already god-like status deeply into the stratosphere.

Although I have only started the book, I think it will be a fine read to tear through on a week without a class. And it will be right in tune with teaching propagation to gardeners!


04 February 2010

Botanical Interests Provides A New Button

From the seeds given to the Venice High School Horticulture program, I plucked this packet of eggplant to show you the beautiful art work on a Botanical Interests seed packet and to show the price of $1.59 which is a pretty good price for a gram of eggplant seed.  Mind you, this packet might be from a previous year's production so eggplant seed might be slightly higher, but still a good deal by any standards.  And I've learned you won't be gouged on shipping charges either!

I'm pleased to call everyone's attention to the newly added direct link to Botanical Interests Seeds on each of my blogs. A little bit about Botanical Interests that makes me proud to add this link to my garden writings, besides the fact that they'll give me a small commission on everyone who orders seeds by using that button:

  • Botanical Interests has signed the Safe Seed Pledge guaranteeing NO GMO seeds in their listings. I consider this to be an essential commitment for any seed seller to get my business let alone my endorsement.
  • They carry a solid line up of vegetable seeds, usually having one of the best prices in the business per packet. They don't carry all of my favorites, but a darn good lot of them.
  • Many of the seeds are offered 'conventionally grown' or 'organically grown' when they can get the organic seed. The organic seeds are clearly marked so you can choose them easily if that's what you want.
  • I like the packets and the information on each packet provides some lovely factoids which, just like one of my lectures, can make you the life of the next party you attend. Just pull out five or six seed packets and you can impress just about anyone who will listen. Never ever be at loss for something to say again.
  • But the biggest reason I'm happy to put that button up here can be seed looking through the seeds donated to The Learning Garden and Venice High School's horticultural program over the years. Always high in the list of those donated the most seeds I have seen Botanical Interests time and again. Renee's Seeds and Seeds of Change have both sent along a lot of seeds too, but BI's prices nail the others to the ground. And it's quality seed in a bonus good looking, fun reading packet. Maybe one day we'll get them to do a story on the seed packets ala Burma Shave road signs! Wouldn't that be a hoot?

You probably won't find all the seed you want all the time from Botanical Interests, but the ones you do will be high quality and from a dealership you can trust to be honest and ethical. If you don't find all you want, please don't forget Seed Savers Exchange and Native Seed/SEARCH when ordering seeds also, they are the two non-profits I support and urge you too as well.

Hope will never die as long as seed catalogs are printed!
That's an old saw, I didn't make it up, though I wish I had.


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