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    Future of historic gardens starts to look a little rosier

    A nonprofit group has a tentative deal to buy - and save - Palm Cottage Gardens west of Orlando.

    ©Associated Press
    January 7, 2003

    ORLANDO -- Last summer, the future looked anything but sunny for Palm Cottage Gardens, one of Florida's most historic sites. But now a tentative purchase agreement has given hope to the Nehrling Society, the nonprofit group fighting to save it.

    "The goal of saving Palm Cottage Gardens is closer to reality," said Ken Nickeson, a computer consultant based in Gotha who has been nominated to be the group's new president.

    Henry Nehrling planted the gardens in Gotha in western Orange County decades ago. He popularized many plant species, especially caladiums (known for their brilliantly colored, variegated leaves), that have since become the basics of Florida landscaping.

    But the gardens' fate had been doubtful for months after a deal between the county and the current property owner fell through.

    "Until two weeks or so ago, we couldn't do anything," said west Orange historian Carl Patterson, who helped gain Nehrling's former home a place on the National Register of Historic Places and the state's list of significant historic properties. "Now, everything is moving ahead."

    Society leaders say the plan is for the society to buy the property for $525,000 from Barbara Bochiardy, with Bochiardy donating $75,000 back to the nonprofit group, for a net outlay of $450,000.

    For the bulk of that amount, the society hopes to use $375,000 of county money that commissioners set aside for the gardens in 2001 but have not released. The remainder would come from $25,000 the society has on hand and $50,000 still to be raised.

    The tentative deal with Bochiardy, who must move to a one-story dwelling for health reasons, "is very good news," said Jim Thomas of the Nehrling Society. "I think it's really going to happen."

    First, the group must persuade the county to recommit its money toward the effort. In 2001, commissioners at first decided to set aside at least $400,000 to save the gardens, but after a year of stalemate involving the county's appraised value versus Bochiardy's original asking price of $650,000, commissioners in July decided that the county would not buy the property. Instead, they gave the society six months to negotiate a price, raise money and put together a plan for how to run it that would meet commissioners' approval.

    That deadline, Jan. 24, is fast approaching.

    "We plan, eventually of course, to restore the house and gardens to a horticultural and historical center. . . . We're going to be ready, at least with a draft plan," Thomas said.

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