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Gold Ridge: Luther Burbank Experiment Farm

Cottage & Farm

A small-scale vernacular landscape

Occasionally, I still take drives through the country to clear my head, but they often lead to new places and subsequent pondering.  I stumbled upon Gold Ridge: the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm in Sebastopol this time and got more than I bargained for.  For those of you unfamiliar with Luther Burbank, many will refer to him as a horticulturalist, which only tells part of his story.  Of course, his plant introductions were notable: 800 new varieties, according to the Luther Burbank Home & Garden website, including some you may know, such as the russet potato, Santa Rosa plum, and Shasta daisies (a common misconception, Shasta daisies are not native to California).  Burbank was an entrepreneur as well, palling around with the likes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford and turning profits at the turn of the last century.  So, it does not surprise me that Burbank would have testing grounds near his Santa Rosa home.

First impression: I am an intruder at a large apartment complex on my left opposite a charming little cottage, a modest orchard, and a few straggly plants for sale via donations (to be fair, spring has not yet sprung at the time of writing).  Parking was not immediately apparent until I found a small parking area separate from the complex.  Despite the high-density housing, the air was still.

Quiet surroundings on a chilly morning.  I was the first one there.  The nursery offers plants raised by volunteers and sold on a self-serve honor system.  Nothing tempted me this time, but I have a mental note to return during warmer weather.  Despite the farm’s modest presentation, there were elements of sophisticated interpretation using QR codes linked to a sequence of online videos.  Virtual tours while standing there in real-time.  But I kept looking over my shoulder at the apartment complex.  It felt like I was walking through their backyard.  Lo and behold, one of the videos clarified that after Burbank’s death, his wife, Elizabeth, first leased the land to an out-of-state nursery company and later sold off a section to a non-profit intending to build senior housing.  It worked!  The video gives the impression that the land sale would allow the remaining land to be retained and preserved.  What endured in 1978 had been registered by the federal Department of the Interior as a historic place.  And this should be where today’s story should begin.

Another introduction: a (nearly) spineless Opuntia

On the one hand, Gold Ridge is an underutilized site that has opportunities to expand the nursery, its interpretive materials, and continue LB’s legacy by initiating experiments and developing new plant introductions—a lot to ask an all-volunteer organization.  Having presided over a nonprofit in my past, I understand the commitment.  So, on the other hand, this is an endearing place to visit without the fuss of heavy tourism, and if you are a plant lover, find something not readily available in big box nurseries.  Still, I cannot help but feel that the site, its volunteers, and the historic status will all be able to expand upon what was established not long ago.

Gold Ridge: Luther Burbank Experiment Farm

7781 Bodega Avenue

Sebastopol, CA. 95472


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