Plant Daddy

By Kimberly Mayer

In “Head to Toe”( I wrote on discovering Birkenstocks in my sixties, while everyone around me had discovered them in The 60’s. I was in Encinitas, California with my daughter and son-in-law, so it’s only fitting that they circle back in this piece. Apparently I’m not done with Encinitas yet.

Just a couple blocks down the Pacific Coast Highway from the Birkenstock store sits the campus of Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas. What is that? you might ask. Tunisian-like white structures punctuated in azure blue, topped with lotus blossom domes in gold leaf, it’s weirdly beautiful in an easterly way. Twenty-seven acres include an Ashram Center and Retreat, The Hermitage, and Meditation Gardens, overlooking and stretching down to Swami’s Beach. 

The Fellowship was founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda to spread understanding of the spiritual wisdom of India in the West. It was in the bookstore of the fellowship that I began going through Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi and noticed a chapter devoted to Luther Burbank. Why, I know of that man, I thought. A renowned plant breeder and horticulturist, a pioneer in agricultural science. 

Paramahansa Yogananda’s autobiography, it turns out, is dedicated to Burbank. They were dear friends, the Yogi and the plant breeder. In his day, Luther Burbank practiced Kriya Yoga devoutly, and Paramahansa Yogananda called Burbank “my American saint.”

This is when one thing leads to another. I purchased the Autobiograpy of a Yogi and when home, dusted off my copy of A Gardener Touched with Genius: The Life of Luther Burbank, by Peter Dreyer. Indeed, the two men figure in each other’s book. In his autobiography Paramahansa Yogananda tells the story of walking alongside Luther Burbank through his garden in Santa Rosa, California when Burbank informed him, “The secret of plant breeding, apart from scientific knowledge, is love.” 

We halted near a bed of edible cacti.

“While I was conducting experiments to make ‘spineless cacti,’ I often talked to the plants to create a vibration of love. ‘You have nothing to fear,’ I would tell them.’ You don’t need your defensive thorns. I will protect you. Gradually the useful plant of the desert emerged in a thornless variety.”

I was charmed at this miracle. “Please, dear Luther, give me a few cactus leaves to plant in my garden…”

I too received a cactus arm, a descendent of Luther Burbank’s cacti, while visiting the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas. It may have been silly for me to accept, residing as I do in the San Juan Islands—where only Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus makes a rare appearance on dry rocky banks. No, I had another idea for the arm. 

Living alongside Balboa Park in San Diego are my daughter and son-in-law. Having landscaped their Spanish contemporary home primarily with cactus, agave, and roses, they’ve demonstrated how well the cactus grows there. Furthermore, on my visit I counted forty-two robust houseplants in their home, many of whom are succulents. And that wasn’t counting all the potted and hanging plants in a large courtyard. 

Add to that now, the cactus arm I left with my son in law. 

My daughter is the first to say that her husband is the plant genius. The Augmented and Virtual Reality Capability Lead at the largest consulting company in the world, but better known as “plant daddy” to his wife and family. The cactus arm is in good hands.


Filed under horticulture, plant breeding, yoga, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Plant Daddy

  1. Beth Ahrens Yourgrau

    When rereading your blog, I “dusted off” my still unread copy of, Autobiography of a Yogi. It was a gift from a very Yogi devout friend. It felt like you were present when I opened to the book’s dedication to Luther Burbank, “An American Saint”. I then looked up the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas @ Viewed their meditation garden and read about their Retreats. My other blog inspired searches included Luther Burbank @ and cactus arms which is also the name of a yoga pose. My written journey ends with your daughter and our niece’s home in Balboa Park in San Diego. That’s a place that my husband and I visited during the early stage of their renovations. Thank you.

    • I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I have read that The Autobiography of a Yogi was the only book on Steve Job’s bedside table when he died.
      I love that you felt my presence in opening your copy of the book, and that you now know Luther Burbank. I think we should all return to San Diego together, see the finished product, and have some fun.

  2. Tug Yourgrau

    Kim, what a wonderful story told with skill and elegance. I loved it. Thank you. And I didn’t know that Brent had such a green thumb.

    And what a marvelous coincidence: I happen to be reading a terrific book written a couple of years ago in which the author undertakes a long journey through the South following the route taken by Frederick Law Olmsted 1854, before he started landscaping. He was hired by the New York Times to feel out the mindset of the South. He started out by train in Maryland then continued by stage coach, boat and on horseback through Kentucky, Tennessee and down the Mississippi through Louisiana and finally across Texas. Olmstead had a terrific eye for plants, trees, and other natural features, and deep feelings about the civilizing and healing effects of landscape. The book is SPYING ON THE SOUTH by Tony Horwitz. He’d written CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC. He died just after the Olmstead book was published.

    I’d be really curious to hear what you think of it, should you choose to read it.

    I see that the heat seems to have lifted from SJI. It’s still in the 90’s here, but we’re expecting some powerful storms this evening that will start to clear things out.

    Your sister is in downtown Melrose getting a manicure and pedicure. Her way of treating herself. She deserves it.

    Hugs and kisses to all of you. Tug

    *Tug Yourgrau*

    * * 617.797.9674


    On Wed, Jun 30, 2021 at 12:54 PM a little elbow room wrote:

    > a little elbow room posted: ” By Kimberly Mayer In “Head to Toe”( > I wrote on > discovering Birkenstocks in my sixties, while everyone around me had > discovered them in The 60’s. I was in Encinitas, California with my > daughter ” >

    • I got it today: Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz. Thank you for the recommendation. So much of my reading is “green” like this–and there is nobody I’d like to know better than Frederick Olmsted. His genius is wide reaching, from Central Park in NYC to the campus of the University of Washington.

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