Burbank’s Will & Plant Legacy

Stark Bros Burbank Gardens signA writer is working on a book about Stark Bro’s Nurseries for its 200th anniversary. She seemed to be of the impression that Burbank “willed” his plant creations to Stark.

In fact, Burbank’s will left everything to his wife and named her executrix. There was no mention of property or plants at all. We have no documentation that indicates that Burbank chose Stark to carry on his legacy. Some published material has quoted Mrs. Burbank as stating that her husband designated no successor.

Initially, U.C. Berkeley and Stanford were interested in acquiring the Burbank property (Sebastopol at a minimum) to use as an Agricultural Experiment Station. When funding failed to materialize, in 1927 Mrs. Burbank entered into an agreement with Stark Bro’s to take the material they wanted from Burbank’s properties. The contract included ownership of the name of the business and all customer information. A subsequent contract provided exclusive rights to sell uncompleted experiments with fruits at Sebastopol (excepting the Royal and Paradox) for 10 years. Stark Bro’s had right of renewal.

In 1931, Stark Bro’s sold their interest in Burbank flower and vegetable seeds to the Burpee company. Among their efforts, Burpee opened the Burbank garden in Santa Rosa as a tourist attraction.

In 1935, Stark ended the agreement with Mrs. Burbank (or vice versa.) Mrs. Burbank then sold the majority of the gardens in Santa Rosa for subdivision. She sold the remaining property (excluding the house and greenhouse) to the Junior College for use as a training ground. This lasted until 1954. In 1955, the City took over ownership of the property (which it retains today).

From 1932 – 1951, Mrs. Burbank worked with Stark to patent 16 Burbank fruits and flowers. The patents name Luther Burbank, deceased, as “inventor” by Elizabeth Waters Burbank, executrix, assignor to Stark Bro’s Nurseries. Patents describe work performed in California by Burbank and found to be established and fixed by further asexual reproduction by budding in Missouri and elsewhere.

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