Banquet Piece, Pieter Claez

Monday, September 29, 2014

Visiting with your favorite deceased horticulturist

The redwood has embraced this gravestone.
This is an early start to thinking about this year's Días de los Muertos. Maybe these are thoughts you have when you take out the old tomatoes and start thinking about planting fava beans.

Last week our landscape drawing class had a field trip to the Mountain View Cemetery. On the way up the hill, Bryn and Robert and I had a conversation which, because we were in a cemetery, it was only slightly morbid. Where did we want to be parked when we are done with our earthly bodies?

Over the years of taking care of the older folks, I have decided that I want to be sprinkled about in some of my favorite mushroom hunting grounds. I'm hoping to hitch a ride up and down the xylem and phloem of a redwood until I settle into a ring of wood. That redwood might be long lived enough that I could spend some time there before being made into a fence or a mole den.

So that's what I said - I just want my folks (whoever they are at that time) to sprinkle me up and down the coastal forests.

As we split off on our separate ways,  I was naturally drawn to a grove of three redwoods. And there, I saw a gravestone being swallowed by red shaggy roots. I texted the picture above to Big Bart and Little Bart (not their real names) and got back "What a way to go!" from BB and "I wanna be tree food when I go!" from LB. Yeah!

"Cedar of Lebenon in Santa Rosa
Where Luther Burbank is buried"
from here
Ready for a coincidence? This weekend, we visited the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa. For plant nuts, it is a must-visit place. Our tour guide showed us a lawn in front of the Burbank house and he said that Luther Burbank was buried here under a cedar of Lebanon! Of course, he wanted to be buried there! Under a tree that he planted!

However, the cedar died, many years ago now. So we felt a little sad about this and I hope Burbank isn't disappointed. There is a copper beech near by and maybe there's a bit of him in there, too. Planning for eternity is never easy.

Continuing on the tour inside the house, there were pictures of family, pets, fruits. There were photos of many famous people who visited Luther Burbank - people like Thomas Edison, the king and queen of Belgium, Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, Hugo de Vries, and Helen Keller.

This guy was pretty important in his time. I'm getting that.

1931, painted in San Francisco?
from Frida Kahlo Fans
There was also a copy of a picture of Luther Burbank painted by Frida Kahlo! I remember this picture!

Frida Kahlo painted this picture of Luther Burbank after his death. It shows exactly what I'm thinking about. The tree takes nourishment from our earthly bodies and our atoms and molecules can get a free ride up to the sky. (I'm going for the ashes, though, not the corpse :0 but that wouldn't make such an impact on the viewer, would it?).

(Look for A Rare Crossing: Frida Kahlo and Luther Burbank. Lucretia Hoover Giese, American Art, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Spring, 2001), pp. 52-73. This looks good.)

The original painting is in Mexico at the Museo Dolores Olmedo. You can see it on the wall behind the speaker in the youtube video for the Google Art Project at 0:50 and 4:00.

Below are some pictures when Frida and Diego visited the Burbank home. Dates are different - 1929 and 1931 - but they look like the same day. According to this chronology, Frida and Diego arrive in San Francisco in November 1929. Frida leaves in May 1930. Luther Burbank passed several years before Frida and Diego visited.

"Group picture of Mrs. Burbank, Diego Rivera,Frida Kahlo his wife, 
and "Little Betty Jane" outside Greenhouse."
from an online Luther Burbank photo archive

From El archivo de Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera
"1931 Kahlo y Rivera en la casa del matrimonio Burbank, Santa Rosa"
This looks like it was taken on the same day as the picture in front of the greenhouse.
And one might think that they are standing at Luther Burbank's gravesite
under the cedar of Lebanon.

Diego Rivera also painted Luther Burbank while he was in San Francisco. Check out the guy leaning over pollinating in this mural. Yup, Luther Burbank. More on that here. The sketch is currently loaned to the Oakland Museum for the "Fertile Ground" exhibit.

SFMOMA had a Frida Kahlo exhibit in 2008 and in this youtube video where the artist, Amalia Mesa-Bains, talks about Frida in San Francisco. She mentions a game where Frida and her fellow artists played the game where one will draw and fold over the paper and the next artist will continue the drawing, something like the Surrealist "Exquisite corpse" game.

On this blog is the pencil sketch for the painting and it does look like it is made of two or three different sections, but by the same person.

These trees of Lebanon  look just like the photo above, right?
"Luther Burbank Home & Gardens
This bench commemorates Luther Burbank (1849-1926).
It is made of wood from the Cedar of Lebanon that shaded his grave 

until the tree was felled in 1989.
The carving represents that historic tree.
So a final note, one that might not have been noticed if we had not admired the two wooden benches in the gift shop. The two benches are beautifully crafted with beautiful wood. Our guide said these benches were made from that same cedar of Lebanon that was growing over Luther Burbank's grave. So a little bit of Luther Burbank is sitting in the gift shop, visiting with the people who come in, people who are interested in what is here in the house and gardens, the 150 people who volunteer to keep his legacy alive. I hope he appreciates this twist of fate. Kind of like the surprise that comes from pollinating this plant with another and coming up with something unexpected and fruitful. 

Apparently, another part of the tree was sculpted into a love seat. A plaque says "This sculpture was made of wood from a Cedar of Lebanon tree that Luther Burbank planted from a seed in the front lawn. Burbank requested that he be buried near his beloved tree, saying, ‘I would like to know that the strength of my body is going into the strength of a tree.’". 

Along with Luther Burbank are buried Elizabeth (his wife), Bonita (his dog), Madame Dorothy Raegen Talbot (opera singer and friend), Dr. Joseph Hugues Shaw (friend and physician), and James Alfonso Kenney (local ballet master).

This book, Garden of Invention, by Jane S. Smith, talks about the visit. Find it!

References for now and future

  • Luther Burbank photos and scrapbooks from
  • Luther Burbank in LOC


  1. Wow, I didn't know you could buy part of the cedar from Burbank's grave. What an amazing keepsake. I haven't been up to visit the museum yet, but you've inspired me.

  2. I don't think that the benches were for sale. They are probably just too nice to keep outside :O)

  3. If you are going, the Naked Pig - farm to table cafe - is excellent.
    Enjoyed your blog!