New Facelift for “Wizard’s” Museum

Erik Jorgensen, Staff Writer

They called him the “Wizard of Santa Rosa” and he changed the way the world ate.  Luther Burbank’s most famous invention, the Russet potato, is the most planted food crop in the world.  He sold his discovery to a seed company and used his profits to move to Santa Rosa in 1875.  The remodeled museum at Luther Burbank Home and Gardens now showcases one of his 800 plant inventions, the Santa Rosa Plum.

“Pursuing the Perfect Plum” not only names the new museum display, it also describes Luther Burbank’s long-time quest.  Burbank’s experiments to produce bigger and better fruit also produced interesting specimens like stone-less plums, spineless cactus and white blackberries.

The U.S. Patent Office did not originally extend its protection to new plants, but after Burbank’s death in 1926 his friend Thomas Edison appealed to Congress to fix this oversight. Burbank was posthumously awarded nine patents, six for his plums.

Scott Posner, a docent at Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, spoke to volunteer gardeners on Feb. 15 about new and upcoming changes at this National Historic Landmark. The museum changes its look every two or three years and this year’s facelift showcases Burbank’s Prunus salicina ‘Santa Rosa.’

The Santa Rosa Plum “remains a world favorite today,” Posner said. The new display features copies of Burbank’s six plum patents, as well as the Gold Medal earned for his Santa Rosa Plum at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon.  Another new addition is a piece of furniture belonging to Burbank, a display shelf called a whatnot. Posner said that the walnut whatnot, rescued from the attic of the carriage house after 50 years, received careful renovation by volunteer staffers before being installed as a centerpiece in the new display.

Located across Santa Rosa Avenue from Julliard Park, the Home & Gardens also requires renovations.  The original picket fence surrounding the gardens spans 750 feet and contains about 2,250 pickets.  Repairs on the fence are complicated by two factors.  First, original historic landmark original structures, like the picket fence, cannot simply be swapped out for new ones.  Second, toxic lead paint covers the original pickets, which complicates the renovation process since paint chips can contaminate the ground or poison workers.  The fence repair, estimated costing $150,000, should begin later this year.

Burbank’s greenhouse also needs repairs to part of its roof.  It survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake without breaking a single pane of glass.  In contrast, the quake leveled Santa Rosa City Hall just a couple blocks away.

The Luther Burbank Home & Gardens at 204 Santa Rosa Ave. are free and open to the public every day of the year from 8 a.m. until dusk.  The museum and gift shop opens from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.  Guided tours run from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. and cost $7.  Free cellphone tours are available before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.  Luther Burbank is buried in the front yard, next to his beloved greenhouse.