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Gardener's Notebook: The importance of the common potato

Check out the information about the Saskatchewan Horticultural Association summer bus tour at the SHA website.
If you had a plate of fries lately, you were eating history. (File Photo)

YORKTON - Have you ever noticed how many times we open a conversation with the weather? 

Especially at this time of year where the weather changes by the week and the day.  Have you taken a little tour of your garden lately?  Yes, most of us still have a fair bit of snow in the garden, but with each warm day it is amazing how it is going down!

If you had a plate of fries lately, you were eating history.  Let’s begin the story by heading back in time to Ireland during the potato famine, which crippled the country during the years of 1845 to 1852.  A blight that raced through Europe destroyed the potato crop which was a mainstay of the country.  It was a terrible crisis: over one million people died and over one million people left Ireland.  It is said that Ireland still has not recovered from that loss of population.

Now, let’s travel across the Atlantic to Lancaster Massachusetts, where a young man named Luther Burbank lived on a farm and worked in the family garden. When he was eighteen he bought a plot of land, once again worked in the garden, and perhaps as a result of hearing about the terrible potato famine in Ireland, set to work and developed a potato that would change the course of history, the Burbank potato.  After moving to Santa Rosa, California, further work on a genetic variant of this potato resulted in the Russet Burbank potato which is now the most popular potato in the world for food processing. Probably most frozen fries are Burbank russets.

Luther was a man who loved his garden and loved to try and create new and exciting varieties.  We can thank him for the Santa Rosa plum, the Flaming Gold nectarine, and the very popular Shasta daisy and many other plants.

His potato legacy lives on because thankfully we can easily grow the Burbank Russet potato.  I was looking at the Vesey’s catalogue which describes the potato as ‘best for baking and long storage” and gives us “superb baking characteristic and unmatched french-fry quality..”  The variety is also called Netted Gem.  I know that it has likely been one of your go-to favorites for years, just as it was for my family.

Years ago,  we were lucky enough to visit the Burbank farm in Santa Rosa California, near Sonoma; it was a wonderful place, with beautiful and interesting gardens.  It is now a national historic landmark, and the atmosphere of joy and discovery that a true gardener like Mr. Burbank created in his garden is still inspiring today.

Think of all this next time you enjoy french fries or a delicious baked potato!

The Yorkton and District Horticultural Society will be holding their next meeting on Wednesday, April 17 at 7:00 PM at the Yorkton Public Library.  The topic will be “Gardening Above Ground: Raised Beds and Containers” with speakers Melody Wood, and Debbie and Keith Hayward.  Everyone is welcome, you don’t have to be a member to attend!  Visit the hort website at for details.

Also, check out the information about the Saskatchewan Horticultural Association summer bus tour at the SHA website, .  It happens July 26 – 28,  a much-loved garden adventure that will be exploring the north-east part of the province.   Non-members are also welcome on this tour.  But I’d suggest that if you’re thinking of going, you inquire ASAP.

Thank you to our friends at YTW for their finer work!  Gardeners, enjoy looking at seed catalogues and purchasing seeds—won’t be long now!  Have a happy week!