The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants by Jane S. Smith
The Garden of Invention is a semi-biographical tale of Luther Burbank and his involvement of fruit and vegetable invention and production from the late 1870s to the 1930’s. Burbank, best known for his invention of the Russet Potato (the hallmark of McDonald’s fries around the world) has been an instrumental figure in the history and evolution of food production since his first interest in the field in the 1860s. He first discovered his passion for food science when he happened across a less known Charles Darwin title “Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication” at his local library.
Starting first in the East Coast, Burbank eventually moved West to Northern California. It was after this move when he really began to explore and experiment with food variations. His first creation was in 1873 – The Burbank Potato. He later went on to invent: Paradox Walnut (1893), Burbank Rose (1899), Burbank Crimson California Poppy (1904) and Elephant Garlic (1919) just to name a few. He’s had a profound effect on the food that we eat. I never gave the concept for food invention much thought before reading this book. Learning about the science, the passion and the curiosities that go into this field of agriculture is quite fascinating.
Although the subject matter might come across as dull, I found the book to be really interesting, enough to get me out of my 5 week reading slump. Luther Burbank is an interesting figure in history. A quiet man, gardening to his heart’s content, inventing dozens of fruits, vegetables and flowers in his lifetime. I think this book will be a fan favorite of farmer’s market vendors, and anyone really interested in the history of food science in the years between the Civil War and the Great Depression. I also love that a large chunk of it takes place in Northern California. Jane Smith has a very easy and relaxed pace in her writing. She includes tidbits about other major historical figures at the time to give the reader a better concept of the world during Burbank’s life. Overall, I found the book to be informational without being dry. A very difficult feat to accomplish.