Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Burbank's White Blackberry
Luther seems to have been an odd duck, born as a New Englander, but transplanted to California on a post-Civil-War whim to make money. His methods, coming on the heels of the dissemination of Darwin and Mendel's discoveries, seem to have been as much mystical as science, based more on the writings of Emerson and Thoreau than the new science of hereditary. Descriptions of his poor note-taking and nebulous written records of crosses only contribute to his eccentric persona. I didn't know he was awarded an early Carnegie grant, but it doesn't sound like the Carnegie Foundation put up with him long.
In a table that appears before the table of contents in the book, Ms. Smith lists Luther Burbank's most famous introductions. I was both shocked and disappointed that, although I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable amateur gardener, I could only recognise a few from a list of about 40 plants. I recognized the Burbank potato (1873), Shasta daisy (1901), and elephant garlic (1919), which most other gardeners would know as well, but I wasn't even aware that the latter was a Burbank introduction. I always knew that the Shasta daisy, which I hold in high regard, was a Burbank creation, but I, an avid rosarian, had never heard of the 'Burbank Rose' and I still don't know what his 'Surprise Daylily' looks like. Neither it nor Luther Burbank are mentioned in Sydney Eddison's A Passion for Daylilies or any other daylily encyclopedia I can find. I have had some previous experience with Burbank's Sunberry, mentioned in the book although it didn't make the top 40 list, which I had purchased a few years ago from Seed Saver's Exchange and which I found to be extremely disappointing in taste quality and a bit of a nuisance in terms of reseeding itself.
I am currently captivated though, by the thought of the white blackberry (named 'Iceberg'), that Burbank had introduced in 1894 after crossing the wild New Jersey blackberry marketed at the time as 'Crystal White' with the well-regarded 'Lawton' blackberry. A pretty good description of the development of 'Iceberg' can be read on the web at the bulbnrose.org website. The white blackberry leapt from the pages of the Smith book into my compulsive mindset and I HAD TO HAD IT. Even if it was disappointing in taste, I reasoned it would be worth growing as an heirloom conversation piece.
Alas, after three frustrating hours trying to find a current source to procure the white blackberry, I struck out. It isn't offered for sale at any commercial nursery that I can find and my only remaining hope is an email I sent to another blogger who posted last June that he is growing it in California. Of course, I could have missed finding a nursery offering on a Google search, given the difficulty of this particular search. Just try searching for "white blackberry" on the Internet. Today, all you get is 100,000 sites about some crappy second-rate phone called a "Blackberry." Who the heck would name a phone after a fruit? And I'm going to write a letter to the Gold Ridge Experimental Farm. That's the former experimental farm of Burbank's, now made into a tourist attraction. The gift shop to the farm sells only typical tourist shirts, notecards and other crap. No plants. I don't know who runs the gift shop but it ought to have dawned on the curators that most of the visitors may have some gardening interest and might be interested to buy some of Burbank's famous plants.
Like a white blackberry for instance.