Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

Luther Burbank: Boy Wizard

Luther Burbank (1849-1926) was one of America’s most famous and prolific horticulturists, developing some 800 new varieties of plants including the Shasta daisy and Burbank potato, a form of which, the Russet Burbank, is now the world’s most widely grown potato,” writes my friend Scott Kunst in the new edition of his online newsletter for Old House Gardens. “Burbank was also very interested in education, and I think any nature-lover will appreciate—and long for—the kind of education he describes here: ‘Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pinecones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.’”

Which got me thinking about a series of books I especially loved as a child called The Childhood of Famous Americans (The Bobbs-Merrill Company). I worked my way through all of the orange-covered editions in the children’s section of our Carnegie Library in Carmel, Indiana. Today I pick them up whenever I find them at yard sales and used bookstores and I’ve gathered a nice-sized collection, including Florence Nightingale, Kit Carson, Paul Revere, and, of course, Luther Burbank.

Here’s a snippet from Luther Burbank: Boy Wizard by Olive W. Burt (1948):
“It was a summer afternoon in the summer of 1856. The Burbank children and their friends were playing hide-and-seek around the old Burbank house. But Luther was playing another kind of hide-and-seek. His playmates were not boys and girls but honeybees! As he crouched in the deep clover of the meadow, hidden from the other children, he noticed something he never had before. A big fat honeybee came zooming over the wall, stopped on a blossom and pushed its hairy body deep into the cup of the flower. Luther watched it fly a little way to light on another clover blossom. The greedy bee flew right over the daisies and the beautiful red roses. Luther could not understand. At dinner that night his cousin Levi told him how bees pollenize just one kind of flower at a time. And Luther had his first experience with a mystery of nature. From that time on he was forever watching the flowers and soil and insects for other mysteries and getting new ideas for better plants and easier ways to make things grow.”

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