Thursday, January 21, 2010

Author, Dr. Jane S. Smith

The Garden of Invention: Book review and author interview

Hello, Pumpkinistas!
In my never-ending quest for knowledge and the science of giant pumpkin cultivation, I recently read and reviewed this book and interviewed the author, Dr. Jane S. Smith, for a recent issue of Gardening Thymes, the monthly newsletter of the University of California Cooperative Extension Certified Master Gardeners. Naturally, there are some practices that Luther Burbank developed that can be applied to giant pumpkins.

The Garden of Invention, Luther Burbank and the Business
of Breeding Plants, Jane S. Smith, Penguin Press,
New York, 2009, 354 pages, ISBN 978-1-59420-209-4.
Dr. Jane S. Smith has written a fascinating,
comprehensive and intriguing account
of the life, thoughts and achievements
of Luther Burbank, the famed plant
breeder and experimenter of Santa Rosa,
California. Dr. Smith, who holds a PhD
from Yale University, and taught at
Northwestern University, leads the reader on a fast-paced
account of Burbank's early years in Lunenberg, MA,
through his move to and subsequent world-wide acclaim
in California. Smith also writes about Burbank's experiences
as a lecturer at Stanford, the challenges of being a
Carnegie Institution grant recipient, and his associations
and friendships with other business luminaries of the era
including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone.
"The Garden of Invention" is a special treat for the
avid California gardener and a valuable resource for anyone
who has wondered how plants were bred in the late
19th and early 20th centuries. For more information visit:
The author graciously responded to some questions about
Luther Burbank and her own gardening experiences:

SS: What was the most interesting thing that you learned
about Luther Burbank during the research and writing of
this book?
JSS: I was fascinated by how many of Burbank's ideas
that got him into trouble with scientists
of his day--from the possibility
of breeding a hybrid that would reproduce
to the impact of talking to
your plants--have since been proven
correct. Burbank never stopped being
a popular hero, but for a time his
'unscientific' methods cast a shadow
on his real achievements.
SS: Have you been inspired or motivated to try growing
any plants yourself after writing this book? If so, which
plants, trees or vegetables and why? Or, have you always
been a gardener? If so, what are some of the plants you
like growing the most and why?
JSS: My gardening started in nursery school, when I
planted lima beans in a milk carton, to sprout on the window
sill. I still don't have the space (or the patience, alas)
to emulate Burbank's experiments, but writing The Garden
of Invention made me more adventurous than ever in
the garden--putting vegetables in the flowerbeds, saving
seeds to see what the next generation would look like, and
even taking a grafting class to create fruit trees I then had
to give away, because I had no place to grow them!
SS: Do you have any future gardening, horticulture, or
botany related projects in mind?
JSS: I'm starting my research for a book on the origins of
plants that end up in public conservatories.
SS: What was so intriguing about the debate in the garden
in Italy that made you decide to write a book about
Luther Burbank?
JSS: A group of very smart people were arguing about
whether new plant varieties were going to save the world,
or ruin it, but with no sense of history. After all, there was
a lot that happened between Mother Nature and Monsanto.
In all my writing, I like to look back at the past to
see the road to where we are today.