growing an ecosystem of abundance


INTERdependence Celebration – Collective Gardening, Tour and Fruit Tasting, BBQ/Potluck and Pool Party

Sunday, July 6

9am – 5pm

@ Garden of Eve’n More in Novato, CA*** RSVP REQUIRED ***
Please RSVP to to reserve a spot and we will send address & more information$10-20 Donation sliding scale + Potluck item

Use Paypal Donation below or bring cash


june plums

It should be a hot one, so come early to work in the garden, so we can be poolside when it heats up later in the day. 
Come join us for our INTERdependence Celebration with education and work in the gardens, orchard tour & fruit tastings followed by Poolside fun & BBQ potluck. Our first two events have had really sweet energy with good folks of all ages and experience.The annual garden is now in production and looking better each week. Collectively we harvested Carrots, Greens, Amaranth, Plums & Raspberries. We transplanted two 30ft beds with tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, tomatillos, peppers, arugula & flowers, and set up the drip irrigation. We still have several more beds to clean up & plant including our “Back 40″ area. With perseverance and a little love from PachaMama we’re hoping to share the abundance at harvest time. Come help us get there :-)Check out the pics of the Solstice event:

Join our Facebook Group for updates:


We will work in the veggie gardens to clear, weed, plant, transplant, propagate, harvest and learn together.

Get refreshed in the large swimming pool and share some food amid the palm trees & roses. Bring your swimsuit and a dish/drink to share… Musical instruments & Merriment welcome!

The 5 acre property includes native oak forest and chaparral, 100-year old buildings, fruit trees and vegetable gardens, bamboo grove, fragrant rose collection and nursery. With established fruit trees that have been multigrafted, there are now about 150 varieties of fruit growing.
Fruit tastings: Raspberries, Plums, Citrus.

For those of you who cant make it in the morning but would like to play in the garden. Work and cool off in the pool anytime.

John Valenzuela, Permie “Fruit Freak”
Gustavo Alcantar, Swirlspace EcoDesign

The tour and garden activities will be lead by John Valenzuela, gardener, consultant and Permaculture educator, who is also known as an expert ‘fruit freak’, serving as chairperson for the Golden Gate chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers. John has been maintaining this land for several years, and is pleased to announce that there will now be opportunities to share the garden space for collaborative food growing. John’s gardening, consulting and education services are offered as Cornucopia Food Forest Gardens, with lots of information at 


Solstice at GEM- Gardening , Talk and Tour of Orchard and Gardens, Fruit Tasting, Pool and Potluck

Please join us at the second of our summer series at the Garden of Eve ‘n’ More (GEM)

on Saturday Jun 21, 9am to 5pm

Our first event was great, and we were greatful for the pool when it got to 100 F that day!

More info and details at the events page:

and facebook:

$10-20 Donation sliding scale + Potluck item
Please RSVP to to reserve a spot and we will send address & more information


Tour, Gardening, Potluck and Pool Party near Novato

Interested in collective gardening and orcharding?

Join us this Sunday, the first in a Summer series !

loquat cluster

Tour, Gardening,
Potluck & Pool Party
at G.E.M.
Sunday, June 8, 10am-5pm
@ Garden of Eve-n-More, (G.E.M.)
near Novato, CA (address sent upon RSVP)

Hosted by John Valenzuela & Gustavo Alcantar


Come join us for a day of education and work in the gardens and orchard followed by fun at the pool and a potluck. This is the first event in our summer series.

GARDEN TOUR & INTRO (10am-11am)
We will start with a tour of the 5 acre property, which is a ‘gem’ that includes native oak forest and chaparral, 100-year old buildings, fruit trees and vegetable gardens, bamboo grove, fragrant rose collection and nursery. With established fruit trees that have been multigrafted, there are now about 150 varieties of fruit growing (there may be some berries to sample).

HANDS IN THE DIRT (11am – 1pm)
We will work in the veggie gardens to clear, weed, plant, transplant, propagate, harvest and learn together.

We can then get refreshed in the large swimming pool and share some food amid the palm trees & roses. Bring your swimsuit and a dish/drink to share.

The tour and garden activities will be lead by John Valenzuela, gardener, consultant and Permaculture educator, who is also known as an expert ‘fruit freak’, serving as chairperson for the Golden Gate chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers.

John has been maintaining this land for several years, and is pleased to announce that there will now be opportunities to share the garden space for collaborative food growing.

$10-20 Donation sliding scale + Potluck item
Please RSVP to to reserve a spot and we will send address & more information



pomegranate flowers


Choosing the Best Fruit Tree Varieties– getting ready for Scion Exchanges and Bareroot Trees

Get ready for the Golden Gate CRFG Fruit Wood Scion Exchange this Saturday by attending this talk tonight!

Wednesday, January 15, 6:30-8:00PM 

This event was a great success! Please scroll down to read the rest of this blog post–

Choosing the Best Fruit Tree Varieties: Preparing for Bareroot Season and Scion Exchanges
with John Valenzuela

At ‘Pollinate Farm and Garden’ in Fruitvale, Oakland

Sliding scale $10-25; no one turned away for lack of funds

register here:

Get ready for this season of bare root fruit trees, and more fruit wood scion exchanges, by getting your fruit tree ‘shopping list’ together for this season. I hope you were taking notes at all those fruit tastings I announced this last summer!  In addition to taste, I will also share other considerations about various fruit varieties, including adaptability to various climates, pollination needs, seasonality of harvest, uses in processing, historical considerations, and more. Pollinate Farm and Garden is a great new urban farm supply store that is hosting a great series of workshops. My talk will be the first of this year! Check them out:

Later in the season I will also lead a grafting class at Pollinate, so stay tuned!
Pollinate Farm Garden
Pollinate Farm & Garden
2727 Fruitvale Avenue
Oakland, CA  94601
Phone: 510.686 DIY FOOD (3493)
Wed – Sat 10:00-6:00
Sun Noon-5:00

2014 CRFG Scion Exchanges in full swing-

While it may be so dry we are needing to irrigate, there are some things that assure us that it is indeed winter. The scions have been cut from the California Rare Fruit Growers scion orchards of favored heritage varieties carefully maintained to preserve hundreds of unique varieties. This diversity of fruit varieties come from many regions from around the world, North America, in addition to local varieties from California, and even right here in the S.F. Bay Area. Even some modern varieties found in supermarkets might also be considered ‘rare’ fruits.  Unless you have picked tree ripened plum or peach from your own backyard tree grown in healthy soil, you may never have really tasted these ‘common’ varieties at their prime of maturity and ripeness.

What is a ‘scion’?
Scions are the tips of fruit tree branches used for making new trees, just the same as the original. This vegetative or asexual fruit tree propagation is done by rooting these cuttings, or if that is too difficult, by grafting – joining the scion to a rootstock of a compatible tree. Seedlings may be good for genetic diversity and discovering new varieties, but some species only make one out of a thousand trees worth eating fruit from. If you want a fruit tree that is exactly what you know you like, and that will come into bearing sooner than a seedling, vegetative propagation is the way to go. Come to our big Fruit Wood Scion Exchange this Saturday to learn more, and gain access to hundreds of varieties that are grown by the California Rare Fruit Growers in the Bay Area. The Santa Clara Valley Chapter and Monterey Chapters have already held their exchanges this year, and the Golden Gate chapter is next!

check out the video page too:

GG CRFG poster 2014

More scion exchanges in Northern California here:

Protect the rights of fruit tree breeders!
A reminder: We do not allow any patented varieties at out scion exchange events.

Some patented varieties of fruit you may recognize are: ‘Zestar’ Apple, ‘Pinova’ Apple, ‘Skeena’ Cherry, ‘Minnie Royal’ Cherry, ‘Royal Lee’ Cherry, ‘Sequoia’ Fig, ‘Jupiter’ Seedless Grape, ‘Neptune’ Seedless Grape, ‘Cotton-N-Candy’ Interspecific, ‘Emarald Beaut’ Plum,  ‘UFO’ White Peach, ‘Harrow Sweet’ Pear, ‘Angel Red’ Pomegranate,  and about 1,600 more varieties.

Luther Burbank died with limited financial benefit from all the varieties he bred because he did not enjoy the protection of plant patents. Though he supported the protections plant patents would provide, it was just a few years after he died did the Federal Plant Variety Patent Legislation get passed into law.

The following is quoted from the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO):

“What is a plant patent?
A plant patent is granted by the Government to an inventor (or the inventor’s heirs or assigns) who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state. The grant, which lasts for 20 years from the date of filing the application, protects the inventor’s right to exclude others from asexually reproducing, selling, or using the plant so reproduced. This protection is limited to a plant in its ordinary meaning:”

All the patented plant varieties can be found on the USPTO website search engine:

A spreadsheet with all patented varieties as of Jan 2012 is found here, thanks to Jason Sutor:


Let’s respect and reward fruit breeders work!.
Floyd Zaiger was Trained by Nectarine Breeder Fred Anderson, who was trained by Luther Burbank

We respect the rights of the breeders who hold these patents. Plant patents do not last forever. They do eventually expire, 20 years from the filing of the patent application. They are then in the public domain, and are free to share. Thanks to the hard work of fruit breeders from Zaiger Genetics, University of Minnesota, Armstrong Nursery, and many, many others; we may consider these great modern varieties ‘future heirloom’ fruits.

Some varieties with expired patents are:  
‘Red Baron’ Peach,
‘Champagne’ White Peach,
‘August Glo’ Nectarine,
‘Arctic Snow’ White Nectarine,
‘Arctic Queen’ White Nectarine,
‘Flavor Supreme’ (PlumXPlum Cot),
‘Flavor Queen’  (PlumXPlum Cot),
‘Flavor King’  (PlumXPlum Cot)
‘Janice’ Fig
‘Ginger Gold’ Apple,
‘Honeycrisp’ Apple,
‘Cameo’ Apple
‘Enterprise’ Apple
‘Goldrush’ Apple
‘Cripps- Two’ Apple aka Sundowner®
‘Cripps Pink’ Apple (which also has another trademarked brand name: Pink Lady®)

Trademarked names are a separate issue. Trademarks are brand names used for certain varieties, with the mark ® if federally registered (renewable every 10 years), or with the ™ if the trademarked is just claimed.

For more on trademarks and patents see this article, from Oregon State: From a couple of nurseries, more on the confusion multiple names for varieties causes: short article- ,  and a longer article-


Collect scions while you prune your fruit trees.

For some tips on how to prepare scions to bring to the exchange see some of our videos on preparing for the exchange, here:

Pruning classes abound in the Bay Area: at Berkely Hort. Nursery, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, the Institute of Urban Homesteading, and other venues.

Please consider joining me at the Berkeley Eco-House backyard food forest for a pruning class, Sunday, Feb. 2nd. More info here:

Fruit tree pruning EcoHouse 2-2-12

One more class to mention:

The Marin Master Gardeners will host me presenting the talk: “Fruit Tree Diseases and Pests in the Home Orchard”.  The program is February 26, 2014, 12pm-1pm at the Boro/Pickleweed Community Center in San Rafael. Hope to see you there-

Please let me know if you need advice regarding your fruit trees, or need any pruning or grafting this season.

See you at the exchanges! Or maybe at that cherimoya tasting in So Cal.


The Magic of the Forestiere Undergound Gardens: a sustainable underground oasis still fruitful after 100 years

The Visionary Underground Gardens of Baldassare Forestiere

(all rights to images belong to the Forestiere Underground Gardens)


Baldassare Forestiere  and his inspired life’s work- vision of an oasis shaped in  stone work and filled with fruit trees, including many multi-graft citrus

While on my way to attend the Organic Stone Fruit Jubilee in Clovis, held days after the summer solstice, I just had to make a pilgrimage to a place I have been dreaming of for many years: the famed underground gardens of Baldassare Forestiere (1879- 1946). These unique and other-worldly gardens are still maintained by the Forestiere family, and are seasonally open to offer tours to the public, which I highly recommend. Much of the following stories I recall from those told by our excellent tour guide, Lisa. Any errors are my own

FUG bumpersticker

I drove from the 54 degree foggy coast of Santa Cruz to the 93 degree early summer Central Valley heat of Fresno, which can be regularly over 100 degrees later in July and August. It was this extreme heat that Forestiere sought to escape in his underground caverns, creating an productive oasis of citrus and many other fruit trees that grow throughout his artistic home in a never ending expression of his visions of paradise.

Immigrating from Sicily as a 22 year old unschooled and self taught skilled laborer, he left is homeland after a bitter argument with his father to seek opportunities in America to start his own citrus empire. First living in Boston and New York, he labored digging in the new subway tunnels. The unfriendly winter climate frustrated his dream to grow citrus, so he left the North East to search for suitable terrain in the famed subtropical fruitlands of Southern California, only to be thwarted by the exorbitant land prices. He heard rumors of less expensive land to the North, in the Central Valley farming town of Fresno, where he arranged to purchase 80 acres, sight unseen in 1906.

To his dismay, he discovered his new property was underlain with a shallow hardpan of cement like sedimentary rock, making planting trees near impossible. In addition the searing summer heat was especially brutal that year. Seeking to escape the heat, he excavated an underground shelter, breaking through the hard pan, and using the rock as bricks. He knew such a shelter would be cool in the summer and warm in the winter, as the earth has an average 55 degree temp year around, at a 20 foot depth. By day, he was employed as a ditch digger in the area, as he developed his property in his ‘spare time’, by himself. Never using dynamite, as he feared the damage of work already completed, he worked endlessly with only his hand tools, and his two mules, for some 40 years, until his death in 1946.

His creation was no dark, dank cave- Throughout the endless maze-like tunnels there are hundreds of wonderful ‘Roman’ stone arches, full of light and cool fresh air, amid an abundance of fruit hanging from the living trees!

FUG sign

The dense plantings provide a shaded entry to the gardens


descending into the secret gardens


a glorious light

Fulfilling his dream, Forestiere found that he could cultivate his beloved citrus and other fruit trees in rock walled planters under the many skylights, protected from winter frost and summer sun with lath structures, the roots remained cool in the summer and warm in the winter.


‘Trinity’ planter with a citrus tree grafted to 3 types

Inspired by his Roman Catholic faith, he created many plantings with patterns of threes and sevens, representing the Holy Trinity, and the Seven Sacraments. Without any written plans, he worked from his mind’s eye, eventually manifesting some 55 rooms, atriums, and grottos, including a chapel, 2 bed rooms, dining room, kitchen, fish ponds, ball room, extensive car port and more, wandering under more than 10 acres of land. Not only beautifully inspired, it is functional vernacular: with a water well, rain water catchment and drainage systems, solar heated bath, wood heating kept the small rooms cozy and the earth kept it cooled. Hundreds of ‘Roman arches’ support the ceilings, while the natural airflow is directed to keep a cool breeze circulating. Many passage ways and rooms align to allow views across hundreds of feet underground, while some secret observation holes were used to watch for the possibility of intruders, inspired by the famed secret catacombs of the old country.


bedroom with view


kitchen with stove and icebox, which he filled with ice he traded for his fruit


lattice for summer heat and winter cold protection


lattice structure from ground level

After completing an adequate home for himself, he continued with his labors, with his ultimate plan to create an underground oasis resort for visitors to escape the summer heat, and to share in the enjoyment of the abundant fruits of his gardens. He never opened the resort, having worked for some 40 years on his ever expanding visions, is was never quite ready for the public. Though needing constant care and maintenance, the  stonework stands strong, and the fruit gardens live on, including many species of fruit trees, now still bearing, after more than 100 years .


St Francis watches over the still productive fruit trees and vines, of mulberry, grape, citrus, pear, roses and more-

A partial list of plants I saw at the Forestiere Underground Gardens:


spirit-driven man of the Earth

Black Mulberry

according to their website,
Grape varieties included ‘Alicante’, ‘Thompson’,
‘Muscat’, ‘Grenache’, ‘Black Morocco’, and ‘Zinfandel’.

Another unique skill applied to his vision was the many multigrafted citrus trees, still found found flourishing and full of fruit today.

Citrus multi-grafts:
Orange sweet and sour types
Lemon sweet and sour types
Cedro or Citron



this tree once had 7 varieties grafted onto it. Notice the walkway above for easy harvest-


You can learn how to graft citrus too!

I have done several grafts onto one citrus tree, but Mr Joe Real of Sacramento, has a tree of more than 100 varieties on one tree! Yes, that would be lot to manage, but it is possible. If you are at a more ‘beginner’ level of wanting to learn how to graft a single variety, trying your hand at this ancient art of ‘making two grow as one’, please join us this weekend.
Grafting citrus is something that is done in these summer months, so you are invited to a workshop to learn how to make your own single variety citrus tree this Saturday, Jun 29. Out at the Indian Valley Organic Farm in Novato, Marin Co., fruit trees we have grafted at prior grafting workshops have been planted, cared for, and now are bearing their first fruits. At this workshop, we will have over 20 varieties of disease and pest free citrus grafting buds to choose from, and we will help you graft a tree to take home. For more information on specific varieties and registration see:

This summer, when Fresno is sweltering in typical 100 degree plus heat, take the time to retreat into the lush and productive subterranean oasis that is the Forestiere Underground Gardens. A truly unique and inspirational food forest!

Forestiere with fruit

Happy Birthday Baldassare Forestiere, b. July 8, 1879

High Speed Rail Development Threatens the Gardens

Whether you visit to take a tour or not, please let them know you are opposed to any disturbance to the gardens and access to their educational tours during the proposed high-speed rail development construction adjacent to the gardens.

Happy Solstice! Summer Fruit Tasting Season Has Begun-

yellow cherries

This tasting featured cherry varieties from centuries ago in Europe, old American favorties, and  brand new varieties bred by Zaiger Genetics, and others by the Santa Clara Valley CRFG Hybridizers Group.

The longest day of the year is here and the fruits are falling from the trees. Will you be there to taste test the delicious diversity? Well there are many opportunities to expand your palate.

I have a whole page dedicated to listing the upcoming fruit tastings I know of in the Northern California area:
please send me any tastings I have missed!

I started this year’s summer fruit tasting season with my son on Fathers Day last Sunday at Andy’s Orchard in Morgan Hill, South of San Jose.

I have been to as many of these tastings at Andy Marinani’s farm as I can get to. Andy is renowned for having the top collection of stone fruit varieties commercially available purchase by the public. He generously contributes propagation material from many varieties of stone fruit and persimmon which are offered at the California Rare Fruit Growers annual scion exchanges, and leads the Santa Clara Valley Chapter CRFG Hybridizers Group. Don’t feel bad you missed this first tasting, as he holds several during the summer stone fruit season. His website with details of future tastings is here:

This year Sunset magazine’s June 2013 issue just came out with an eye popping article on Andy Mariani and Andy’s Orchard, of course mentioning their seasonal fruit tastings. This publicity lured the crowds of tasters to number an estimated 300+.

Andy's Article and Crowds

Sunset magazine feature article about Andy’s fruit gave people reason to wait in such long lines to enter.

cherry tasting before the crowds

‘Bing’ is king, with the other 33 varieties in the background, before the crowds arrived

Our bellies were getting full and our taste buds saturated, having tasted 34 varieties of cherries, and a dozen other early stone fruit varieties, topped off with a chocolate dipped fresh cherry! Then there was the orchard harvest walk, this time with the alert leadership of Karl Gross, scion exchange co-ordinator for the Santa Clara Valley CRFG. We took home some rare fruits: including a few pounds of the ‘Black Republican’ cherry, mother of the renowned ‘Bing’.

picking black republican

Picking the wonderfully rich ‘Black Republican’, c. 1860.

This weekend there are at least two tastings on the same day, scheduled so that you could actually attend both.

At 10 am on Saturday, June 22,  the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository will host a mulberry and early stone fruit tasting at the Wolfskill Experimental Farm near Winters.
This is a historic site, founded before the gold rush, by John Wolfskill. It now is managed by the University of California, with a section containing the USDA fruit nut and vines collections. They also host multiple tastings throughout the seasons. Lead researcher John Preece and his field managers and researchers maintain thousands of varieties in their collection and are very knowledgeable, and glad to share information at these tastings. Their website is full of information on the collection:

Later in the day on Saturday at 400pm, another fantastic event will be held in the Central Valley:
The Organic Stone Fruit Jubilee, held at the Mokichi Okada Association’s Oasis Garden in Clovis. Nearly a dozen organic orchardists will be sharing over 60 varieties of fruit starting at 5pm. More information here:

The more fruit you taste, the better your reference points are to know what you like and describe for others what they might like too. This will allow you to make a better shopping list for our winter scion exchanges. It is hard to remember those warms summer fruits in the cold of January, so make good notes! Your taste buds just might start to tingle when you hear those special names again.

Keep it juicy!

Hayes Valley Farm is ‘branching out’ in it’s transition, take some of it home

In my last post, I mistakenly announced the Final Farm Fiesta was on Saturday, but it was held on Sunday. Hayes Valley Farm was from the beginning planned as an interim use of  abandoned freeway off-ramp land that eventually would be built upon when the economy picked up. For three years the farm has grown literally tons of food, through touching and been touched by thousands of urban SF gardeners. Inspiring!

Get a piece of this at their plant sale this weekend Sun May 12:

Here are some related links:

HVF facebook page:

HVF twitter:

Many photos posted of the Final Fiesta:

A great local radio show, ‘Chew on This’ on KALW, had a great first episode that included a story on the movement around the transition of the Hayes Valley Farm:

The Bay offers so many plant sales this weekend!

From Occidental Arts and Ecology Center’s rural location to Merritt College Hort Dept in the Oakland hills to the People’s Grocery in the Oakland flatlands, to the largest- at San Francisco Botanical Garden, lots of really great plant sales!

On a sad note, the Hayes Valley Farm will have it’s Farm Farewell Festival “Branching Out” this Saturday too.

see all the details on the events page here:

Happy Birthday John Muir, naturalist and orchardist


Many people have heard of John Muir’s long walks through out the United States and California, and his founding of the Sierra Club. But many do not know that Muir managed a very large, mixed fruit orchard for more than a decade, originally planted by his father in law, in the Martinez area of Northern California.

But he did not discover the ‘Muir’ peach!

The original fruit orchards were first established in
1853 by prominent physician and horticulturist Dr.
John Strentzel, a Polish immigrant settling in the
Alhambra Valley to farm, as California gold rush
opportunities waned. When naturalist and
conservationist John Muir married Dr. Strentzel’s
daughter, pianist Louisa Strentzel in 1880, the
ranch was at its peak, with 2,300 acres growing a
collection of over 1,000 varieties of fruits and

Strenzel Ranch Orchards, established 1853, Martinez, California

John Muir became ranch manager at that time, as
Dr. Strentzel’s health declined. Muir began to make
the ranch more efficient by reducing the number of
varieties by top-working the trees to those that
were economically feasible to produce, and sell
across the US with the nearby railroad access.

When John Muir’s brother David took
over management in 1892, it freed John to
continue his explorations and conservation work,
that year founding the Sierra Club.

John Muir died in 1914, and is laid to rest on the ranch property.

The National Park Service now manages 336 acres of the original ranch which includes the orchards, the Victorian era ‘Muir House’, the original ‘Martinez Adobe’, and grave sites of the Strentzel family, with the majority of the acreage including Mt Wanda.

The John Muir National Historic Site website is

Here is a link to the Orchard Management Plan for John Muir National Historic Site, with more detail on the fruit trees:

The ‘Muir’ peach is named after John Muir, but not the one you think!

The heirloom peach variety known as ‘Muir’, is a not so pretty freestone peach with firm yellow flesh that was commonly used for drying (I can attest it is also a fine fruit for fresh eating too!). The many seeds made available from such large scale processing were used as a source of seedling rootstock. Now ‘Lovell’, another drying peach originating in the Winters area in 1882, is the most commonly available seedling peach roostock. Also notable is that ‘Muir’ has shown to be one of the few peaches resistant to ‘peach leaf curl’ (Taphrina deformans), the very common and bothersome fungal disease.

Muir peach, Hendrick

‘Muir’ peach, illust. from
‘Peaches of New York’, H.P. Hendrick

The origin: The ‘Muir’ peach was discovered in 1880 by John Muir, but he was another, different man named ‘John Muir’. This different John Muir was a farmer in the ‘Silveyville’ area, now known as Dixon, and was not known to be directly related to the more well known John Muir, the naturalist. According to Wickson in ‘Fruits of California’, ‘Muir’ was named and first propagated by G.W.Thissell of Winters, being discovered on Muir’s property. Thissell farmed fruit in Pleasant Valley and was an important nurseryman. He also wrote “Crossing the plains in ’49” in 1903, about his first journey to California

The Luther Burbank connection: Burbank used the ‘Muir’ peach in his breeding program, originating ‘Opulent’ white peach in 1901, and  the ‘Lemon Muir’ peach in 1913, the latter which was said to be better looking fruit than ‘Muir’. Both of these Burbank bred descendents of ‘Muir’ are claimed by different sources to be ‘Muir’ peach X ‘New White’ nectarine seedlings, and are today very hard to find, if not lost.

‘August Etter’ peach, was bred by apple breeder Albert Etter’s brother, August Etter and it is believed that ‘Muir’ is a parent. ‘August Etter’ peach is also curl resistant, and is offered for sale by Greenmantle Nursery:

For more on the details of John Muir tending fruit, the ‘Muir’ peach, and a possible chance meeting of John Muir and Luther Burbank at the Ferry Building in San Francisco (including some heart-felt written correspondence between them), read the excellent and extensively footnoted article:

“Two California Lions, John Muir and Luther Burbank” by Roberta M. McDow in “The John Muir Newsletter”, University of the Pacific, Stockton Ca., Volume 17 No. 1, Winter 2006/2007, available online at

Happy Birthday Luther Burbank

Luther Burbank

From the showy ‘Shasta Daisy’, to the succulent ‘Santa Rosa’, ‘Elephant Heart’, ‘Wickson’ and ‘Inca’ plums, and the delicious but overly vigorous ‘Himalaya’ blackberry, to the ubiquitous ‘Russet Burbank’ potato used to make Mc Donald’s French fries, we have literally hundreds of plants to thank Burbank for.

Born in Lancaster Mass. on this day in 1849, he was the 13th of 15 children, and was sensitive child of fragile health. He began gardening when young, and at age 21 he bought 17 acres with his fathers inheritance. In his fields he discovered a rare potato fruit, from which he derived a valuable new potato variety, the ‘Burbank’ potato.  The money he earned by selling this new variety allowed him to relocate in Santa Rosa California, where he found the best place in the world to grow plants.

During his long productive life, Burbank introduced some 800 varieties of plants by importation from near (native Californian) and far (China and Japan), crossbreeding, selection, multi-grafting, and distribution. He introduced over 100 varieties of plums alone! His neighbors complained that he was a tree burner, not a tree grower, as only 1 in 10,000 seedlings of his countless cross pollinations might be worthy of naming and promoting, with the other 9,999 to be disposed of in dozens of giant burn piles.


Burbank with spineless cactus

Though during his career he worked with no protection of patents, made some poor business alliances that spoiled his reputation, made exaggerations common in the nursery industry (still today!), and frustrated scientists with his non-scientific methods, he got results that we recognized here in California and even internationally. He was a pomological contemporary of professor Edward J. Wickson of the University of California, editor of the ‘Pacific Rural Press’ which often featured  the results of Burbank’s breeding work. Wickson so praised Burbank’s ‘Perfection’ plum, Burbank renamed it ‘Wickson’, still available under that name today.

In another hemisphere, inspired by books describing Burbank’s creations, communist revolutionary I. V. Lennin commissioned Nicolai Vavilov to create the Institute of Breeding and Plant Genetics, and to visit Burbank, leading to the recognition of famed Russian fruit breeder I.V. Michurin.

Some articles and books to better understand the art and industry of Burbank’s life and work:

Crow, James F. Plant Breeding Giants: Burbank, the Artist; Vavilov, the Scientist
includes a great description of Burbank in a obituary by Vavilov.
digitial version:

Blood plum of Satsuma (left upper), Burbank plum (right upper) and crossed plums between the Burbank and Satsuma


Burbank, Luther (1915). Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries, Their Practical Application, I-XII vols. Luther Burbank Press.
Illustrated with dozens of color plates, this work of twelve volumes is an extensive compilation of notes  and writings on Burbank’s work by various ghost writers and editors, in addition to Burbank himself. Volume V on plums is particularly interesting, a couple of images from that chapter are shown above (stoneless plum??!!!).
complete digital version here:

Dreyer, Peter.  A Gardener Touched with Genius: The Life of Luther Burbank

Published in 1993 by Luther Burbank Home & Gardens

This expanded edition provides the best biography of Burbank in print; it also includes “Another Mode of Species Forming” by Burbank (1909), “The Training of the Human Plant” by Burbank (1906), and “Luther Burbank’s Plant Contributions” by W. L. Howard (1945). 230 pages + appendices, some illustrations. The inclusion of Howard’s work (which took years to compile) is one of the few places you can find this most complete list of Burbank’s plant introductions.


Smith, Jane S. The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

His methods were not always purely scientific method, depending on intuition in addition to observation for many of his selections, and often purposely obscure and secretive to protect his work, but his results were renowned. He was seen by an amazed and enchanted public as the ‘Plant Wizard of Santa Rosa’.

Edison, Burbank, and Ford in the garden
He was a contemporary and friend of inventors and industrialists, Edison and Ford. See this silent film visiting Burbank in Santa Rosa, produced by the Ford Motor Co. in 1917:

BurbankGuruji 1924

Yogananda referred to Burbank as “beloved friend”.

Eastern spiritual leader Paramahansa Yogananda visited him regularly, calling Burbank  “An American Saint” in the dedication to his memory in the book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’.
He also takes a chapter to describe his fond relationship with Burbank:
Luther Burbank, “A Saint among the Roses”
in 1893 he issued his ‘New Creations in Fruits and Flowers’
Still renowned and sought out years after his death in 1926, his second wife Elizabeth Waters was visited by Freda Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Santa Rosa in 1930, here in this picture at Burbank’s greenhouse. They were each inspired to paint their own representations of Burbank.
Luther Burbank, by Frida Kahlo
Allegory of California, mural by Diego Riveira
with Burbank below the fruit in hand.

Burbank’s mother was a Burpee, making him a cousin of famed seedsman W. Altee Burpee. They visited and admired each other’s work. When W. Altee died in 1915, his 22 year old son David took over. Upon Bubank’s death, Burpee inherited most of Burbank’s extensive flower and vegetable collection.

After Burbank’s death, his wife leased the collection at Gold Ridge in Sepastopol to Starks Bros. Nursery of Missouri (founded 1816), who then released the famed ‘July Elberta’ peach and other selections from the extensive test grounds. They actually trademarked the Burbank name to describe his varieties. Though most of the trees were destroyed by Starks Bros. (so as to hide anything good they missed),  Elizabeth sold the Goldridge Farm to be used for low-cost elder housing, with the stipulation that a few acres would be preserved as orchard- and so it stands today as a public park in Sebastopol.

During his lifetime he mentored many workers, and one named Fred Anderson later went on his own to work on breeding fruit, creating the famed ‘Le Grand’ line of nectarine cultivars. A young man worked under Anderson, another generation learning the methods of Burbank, his name was Floyd Zaiger.

Now working with his family business that includes three generations, Zaiger is the renowned breeder of many, many ‘inter-specific hybrids’. Going beyond Burbank’s basic ‘plum-cot’ plum X apricot, he went on to back-cross again with plums to create the ‘Pluot’, and crossing the ‘plum-cot’ with the apricot to make ‘Apriums’, both trademarked names. With careful record keeping, and thousands of hand cross pollinations, grow outs and trial and selections, very complex hybrids are developed with low chill tolerance, self fertility, high sugar, resistance to bruising, high coloring and other desirable characteristics.

Though Burbank was only awarded patents for some of his plants after his death, Zaiger is able to exclusively license, and collect royalties from his new creations for 20 years, enjoying US plant patent protection, through the Dave Wilson Nursery here in the USA, and with other nurseries throughout the world.

Since Zaiger’s creations began to be patented back in the early 90’s, several have since had their patents expire, now free to propagate, they are now being exchanged at our annual CRFG scion exchanges. There we might find the scions of Burbank’s ‘Inca’ Asian plum from 1919, along side Zaiger’s ‘Flavor Queen’ interspecific hybrid he submitted for patent in 1991.
So we celebrate Luther Burbank’s birth today, some one hundred and sixty four years ago.
Thank you Luther Burbank for sharing your love of plants with us.

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