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

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  124 ratings  ·  28 reviews
A wide-ranging and delightful narrative history of the celebrated plant breeder Luther Burbank and the business of farm and garden in early twentieth-century America

A century ago, Luther Burbank was the most famous gardener on the planet. His name was inseparable from a cornucopia of new and improved plants—fruits, nuts, vegetables, and flowers—for both home gardens and c
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published April 16th 2009 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published 2009)
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Although I found the story of HOW he did the amazing things he did with plants fascinating I noticed almost immediatly that this book didn't make me feel at all like I'd met the man. It was rather impersonal. I suppose we modern readers like a little more detail. This was a very interestng book that I'd recommend to anyone interested in gardening or history but I still feel like I know nothing about this guy. We always want to know what our heroes eat for breakfast, what brand of toothpaste do t ...more
very good book. chronicling the turn of the century process by which a nation and a man "discovered" nature. burbank is a fascinating figure whose practices, thoughts, and unique sensibility refused to cater to the many persons who admired and coveted his support. a romantic, a man of practicality, a "cosmist," and a business man - jane smith paints a relevant, historical, thoughtful, and personal sketch of this critical figure in agricultural history. i can't wait to get the seeds and plant tha ...more
Mar 28, 2015 Lynne rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, gardeners, general audience
Of all places to find the biography of a gardener, this little gem was in the library of a cruise ship. My next surprise was that I had never heard about this intrepid seeker of better plants for home and market gardeners.

With only an idea that seeds harbor desirable latent traits, Burbank combined techniques of selection, cross-pollination and grafting at time when seed genetics was unheard of. He began propagating hundreds of new vegetable varieties even as new land grant colleges were being f
Terry Earley
Very informative.

I want to order the Burbank Tomato for next year, even though it is determinate.
It's interesting to read the bio of someone who was tremendously famous & influential in their own time, and yet relatively little known now. Luther Burbank was one of those folks, a plant 'inventor' who developed over 800 new varieties of plants, including the Shasta Daisey, the Russett Burbank Potato, the plumcot (a cross between a plum and an apricot), a spineless cactus.

He was good friends with Henry Ford & Thomas Edison, and considered to be their equal (all self-made men, with lit
Sep 26, 2009 Dorothy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Gardeners and those interested in the cultural history of early 20th century America.
Recommended to Dorothy by: My husband
At the turn of the 20th century, Luther Burbank was a rock star. His fame as a breeder and "inventor" of plants had traveled around the world. His gardens in Santa Rosa, California were places of pilgrimage for his army of admirers.

Burbank had absorbed the writings and theories of Charles Darwin, who was one of his heroes, and he applied Darwin's explanations of the principles of evolution to the breeding of plants. He was easily the most successful plant hybridizer of his time and many of the v
David R.
Smith offers up a surprisingly lifeless biography of the great Luther Burbank. Her portrayal of Burbank lanks real depth: it is as if everything is viewed from a great distance. Nor is there focus. I wasn't sure if this was a bio, a narrative about plant genetics, or a study of the plant business. It's an interesting work but more is needed, I think.

"What a beautiful world we live in! My seventy-seventh birthday finds me busier than ever in Nature's school, where I have always been a student; it finds me happier than ever because I have strength and the will to work. To all the world but especially to the children who will think of me today -- the friends I love best -- I send this message: As you hold loving thoughts towards every person and animal and even towards plants, stars, oceans, rivers and hills, and as you are helpful
Julie Lund
While the topic was fascinating to me, it got a little dry about 2/3 in. Perhaps cutting out a few chapters would have been a better choice.
Donal Keady
To anyone who's ever tried to grow anything, or who loves the land, this book is fascinating trip back to a time before the internet and all the other resources of information we rely so heavily on. By sheer genius, and a little luck along the way, this man discovered and created many new and improved breeds of fruits, vegetables and trees that we still have'll make you want to go out and hand pollinate your potatoes!
Wow, I had no idea that what I eat today could conceivably have been invented! Fascinating! ANd even more fascinating is how come I have never heard of the man before when the author said he's right up there with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford! What I found most fascinating though is that he became famous for developing what we now know today as the Russet potato and (I think) founded his whole plant breeding business on his fame.
Judy Aulik
This was a book I had eagerly awaited for an area library to make available, and I wasn't disappointed by it. Burbank was almost a family friend--my grandfather sold some of Burbank's plants at his greenhouse--as well as a beloved legend. The biography was well-written and evenhanded in its presentation.
Today's world needs another gentle manlike Burbank.
Gwen the Librarian
I took this one on a trip with me and was enjoying reading about the excentricities of Luther Burbank as a botanist and inventer. I was fascinated by the mood of the period and how enthusiastic people were about new plant species. If I had more time in my life, I'd keep reading, but it wasn't quite compelling enough to pick back up after my trip.
Karen Mahtin
I had never read anything about Luther Burbank. I found this to be a fairly informative biography, with a bit of information about his plant-breeding business. The lesson: keep good records. I also like that it connected Massachusetts and California (some nice history of the area where I now live).
I really enjoyed this and found it super interesting. This guy breed many mnay of the modern day garden plants and I had never heard of him. It was also cool to read about the other gardeners of the time, many of which still offer catalogs today.

A must read for the gardener! I am lending it to friends.
Jes H
Jun 09, 2011 Jes H rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jes by: Treehorn Books
Well written and exhaustively researched. I great read about a man obsessed with plants for people who: are also obsessed with plants, from Santa Rosa, looking for a history of the US Patent Office, or are for some reason a Luther Burbank fan other than those reasons previously listed.

Susan Dermond
I learned so much more about Luther Burbank and the times he lived in. A very unusual, humble man, two of his friends were Edison and Henry Ford whom he met late in life. Eye-opening about the history of gardening and plant development. The author seems unbiased and respectful.
More about business than plants...well-written and interesting, it just didn't warrant an entire book. A long Smithsonian article would have been perfect! I do have new appreciation for Shasta Daisies and "Luther Burbank Drive" in Seattle though!
The author did a great overview on the career of Luther Burbank and his struggle for financial stability. A lot of discussion about the growth of agriculture in California and in the Sonoma Valley is also featured in the book
Great book. I learned so much about the history of plant breeding in the 19th and 20th century. Luther Burbank was an amazing scientist and inventor. I had no idea we could thank him for pluots and the Russet potato!
interesting read more so for me then for most people given that luther burbank is a distant relative lol. anyone who loves gardening or what forces shapped the america we have now would enjoy this book!
Who knew Burbank just wanted to invent! He tried desperately to sell all of his inventions to finance his real work. Interesting piece on horticulture, business and California at the turn of the last century.
Kimberly LeVelle
Fabulously interesting book about a plant breeder who transformed American farming. I was amazed at how many of our current fruits, vegetables, nuts, and flowers were created by Burbank.
A good little read. Mainly a biography of Luther Burbank--although not exhaustive--focusing mainly on his interest in plants.
Dad said it went into WAY too much detail and would have been better if the author had pared it down a bit.
Melissa Mcavoy
Interesting piece of California history of man considered as famous as Edison and Henry Ford in his day.
Very readable and I enjoyed her sense of humor that peeked through occasionally.
Fascinating and very well written.
Lena Milcarek
Lena Milcarek marked it as to-read
Aug 25, 2015
Cheryl is currently reading it
Aug 18, 2015
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