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Last Update 06/03/08

Dr. Henry Nehrling -- Florida's Premier Botanist

Henry Nehrling's "Palm Cottage Gardens" was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 2000.

28 Jan 2002

"Dear All,

Please pardon my open letter to everyone on this list as it is the only way I can communicate to almost everyone I have been in contact with concerning the old Palm Cottage Gardens in Gotha.

The time has all but run out to preserve Florida's oldest remaining botanical garden. The owner is putting the old home and remaining garden's on the open market. I am disappointed to say that after six years of working to rally the horticultural industry to help save the garden, very little is being done. The preservation effort is under the wings of a handful of concerned local citizens.

Orange County, through Commissioner Teresa Jacobs has pledged funding to help save the garden but the needed support from the garden community needs to also play a role in the preservation.

The gardens founder Henry Nehrling, my great-grandfather, left a legacy of beautiful plant's and tree's that now abound in our Florida landscape. Unfortunately Henry was no business man and never patented any of his many plant creations.

In fact, the main reason for my pushing this effort through the years is that I could see though his old letters that his work and research from 1886-1929, was what you may call a true passion or love for horticulture. When he died in 1929 he was completely broke and was trying to sell his old garden in Gotha. What Henry did not for see was that his hundreds of plant introductions would later create much wealth for Florida financially and more importantly through beautification. We now have a caladium industry worth millions to local growers and support an entire town. The caladium industry was built from Henry's original caladium creations and reserve stock shipped to Sebring in the 1920's. We also have hundreds of exotic palms, bamboo's, bromelaids,crinums, and many other species that were first introduced at the garden in Gotha, from faraway places across the world, now these same plants, trees, shrubs and vines are staples in our Florida landscape.

If "old Henry" as I like to call him would have patented his new plant creations like breeders today and charged admissions to his two old gardens I would have thought he was fully compensated for his devotion to the gardens of Florida. As it stands he did neither, instead he welcomed thousands of visitors into his dream garden's free of charge, he gave away his plants to admirers of his garden's, he only took satisfaction in seeing the eyes of appreciation upon his many garden visitors. Old Henry's botanical research later was used for class studies at the University of Florida in the 1940's, his writings and research are found in classic books such as Bailey's Encyclopedia of Horticulture, and in many old Florida plant and growing guides published by the USDA.

Old history and gardening books from the past detail the following:

Dr. David Fairchild called the Palm Cottage Garden's in Gotha the most interesting place in Florida during his visit their in 1917.

The Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, in 1927, passed a resolution stating that the Palm Cottage Gardens in Gotha and Mead Gardens in Oveido, together, have done more to beautify the Florida landscape through the importation of new plants and tree's.

In the 1951 book, Pioneer American Gardening, by Elvenia Slosson, she writes that the decade of the 1880s, saw great progress in Florida in the development of garden plants, largely through individual initiative. She then goes on to explain to garden lovers of these two early gardens near Orlando.

In the late 1970's, Mr. Henry Swanson's book, Count Down for Agriculture, he documents the pioneer gardens of Mead & Nehrling, at the turn of the last century.

Florida Pioneer Gardens and Gardeners:

Old Henry was not alone in his quest to introduce and experiment with plant's and tree's. Research and history books provide information of several pioneer garden's just in Central Florida alone at the turn of the last century. Tom MacCubbin submitted a list of early horticulture pioneer's who helped shape the plant industry of today. Through the devotion of these men and women Florida horticulture today is worth billions. Yet we have nothing to showcase the early work and devotion of these plant pioneers. Most of Florida's history is devoted to men of wealth and fame, who used others to accomplish their goal to build up Florida. With these garden pioneers I find individual men and women who worked alone with only their hand's and back's to support them. Dr. Alan Meerow an acclaimed horticulturist of today, wrote me several years ago in regard to the Nehrling & Mead strain of Amaryllis. He stated that the modern form of Amaryllis, now grown by the millions by the Dutch, have direct ties to the work done over a century ago by Nehrling & Mead.

The collection of historic papers of Nehrling & Mead both reside in the archives at Rollin's College. Both have sat untouched for many decades, both collections detail the fascinating connections they had with garden growers from around the world. The collections also helped me understand what an impact these humble plant lover's had on the state of Florida.

THE PLEA FOR HELP:

Orange County has committed support for the preservation of Palm Cottage Gardens based on the information we provided them last year about the history of the site. This same history has as we know now direct ties to the foundation of ornamental horticulture in Florida. In the United States today you'll not find a hotter market for horticulture and gardening than Orlando, Fl. With Disney and Epcot, the well known Leu Gardens, the Florida Nursery & Garden Growers Assoc, and hundreds of nurseries and growers just in Central Florida alone.

As I see it the garden lover's of today have a "opportunity" to do something very special in saving what's left of this historic garden. Florida garden lover's have much to be excited and proud of when it comes to history. So much of the flora we find in our garden's today were first introduced into American soil in the garden's of Central Florida.

I guess what I am doing now before this place is gone is to challenge the leader's of Florida horticulture to stand up and fight to save your roots. In recent years two other old commercial garden's have been preserved here in Florida. These old time tourist attractions have now been preserved for the general public. In Palm Cottage Garden's we find historic examples of what pioneer gardening in Florida was all about.

I have been very honest in my letter and appreciate your taking time to read it. It is and will be my last attempt after many years to see this place preserved. Please e-mail or contact Professor Nancy Decker or Mr. Jim Thomas who have been holding the effort to rescue the place together.

Thanks for caring!!

Richard Nehrling

  

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