By Mabel Plaskett
It is a far cry from Lancaster, Mass. where Luther Burbank spent his boyhood to the mountain fastness of the Coast range, but there is a link between them, the evidence of which still exists.
Another boy, Linwood Mitchell was born in Lancaster not far from the birth place of the great American plant breeder and he also had an engrossing interest in experimenting with plants. Strangely enough although the two did not know each other as boys in Lancaster, they were neighbors many years later in Santa Rosa, where they both lived and Linwood Mitchell learned many plant secrets from Burbank.
So it was, in 1898, the dry year in California, when Linwood Mitchell moved to the Coast. He brought with him bulbs, cuttings, scions and seedling trees from Luther Burbank’s gardens. He cleared a place for his orchard on a flat on the south side of Mill Creek, frost free and just above the fog line. In this rich soil and perfect location all things grew well. Mitchell planted many varieties of fruit trees, as well as blackberries and many plants hitherto unknown on the coast.
At the upper edge of Dempsey Flat stood a gnarled old apple tree, the last of an orchard planted by Marion Plaskett, who filed on a claim there which he gave up. This tree was famous for the size and excellence of its fruit and when Linwood Mitchell took scions from it he grafted his seedling apples. The result was very gratifying as the trees grew to maturity and with careful tending the apples they bore were so large, sweet, juicy and unblemished they became famous throughout the Coast area and other ranchers came for scions to graft on their trees. Oddly enough no one knew the name of this apple. It was called the Marion Place apple tree and shortly after Mr. Mitchell took his scions, the old tree blew down.
FOR THE work he did in his orchard and garden on the Coast, Linwood Mitchell was made an. Honorary member of The Luther Burbank Society.
The Mitchells sold out to a man named Shaffer and the place now belongs to Mrs. George Lang. About the same time Mr. Mitchell made his experiments, Charley Sans filed on 160 acres on the north side of Mill Creek and planted an orchard. Of this planting which flourished and furnished fruit to neighbors and passersby for many years, only a few broken trees remain, but if one can make his way through the chapparal that surrounds them, one may still, in season, find delicious cherries and perhaps a few apples.
The Sans place was sold to the Moro boys, Jose and Dave, and is now part of the U. S. Forestry.
Near Chalk Peak the Moro boys had an orchard of which a few apple trees still bear. As the jeep road from the Nacimiento Summit or the “Puerta Suelo” (as the pass was called) to the Coast along Plaskett Ridge, runs near this orchard, the fruit is picked by hunters and others before it has a chance to ripen.
ANOTHER OLD orchard, known as The Albert Place on Pepperwood Ridge north of Prewitt Creek, was set out by Albert Barnes, a brother of Mrs. William Lucas Plaskett, who filed and proved up on a quarter section which le later sold to the Mansfields. This also is now U. S. Forest and is surrounded by lilac and mesquite so thick it is nearly impenetrable. Apricot trees, usually short lived, still bear in this wilderness, the limbs bearing fruit grow high above the reach of deer.
Father south is another orchard planted by Marion Plaskett. Here also, apricots bear fruit. The large orchards at the Lonny Place south of Willow Creek is nearly gone as is the one at the Wallace Mathers place close by. The Lonny Place is now U. S. Forest and Madge Boyd owns the Mathers Place.
Finally we come to one of the finest old orchards on the Coast, the Cruikshank place on Villa Creek. Marno Dutton Thompson, who spent vacation here as a child when the Duttons had the place leased, recalls apples so large she could eat only one half of one at a time.
William Cruikshank Sr., planted this orchard in about 1860. It was his son Billy Cruikshank who discovered gold in Los Burros and Mrs. Cruikshank died here and lies buried near a tall pine above the old orchard.
HOW THESE old orchards have survived without care is a mystery. Some of them close to a century old, blossom and bear fruit. Coming upon them in the wilds one is struck with the affinity of man and nature.
“Nature is man’s teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search, unseals his eye, his mind and purifies his heart: an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence” – Street.
Mabel Sans Plaskett was born in Coralitas near Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz Mountain area of California. Her father Edward Robert Sans ran a saw mill near Pacific Valley, along the Nacimiento – Ferguson road to the coast at Highway One. It was there she met Edward Abbott Plaskett, her husband. Mabel wrote about the coast and the pioneers of the 19th and 20th Centuries.