A Historic Shed at Nehrling Gardens

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We received the wonderful image below of a historic shed from Theresa Schretzmann-Myers, the President of the Henry Nehrling Society, Inc. Known as the “Bookshed”, the board and batten outbuilding was used by famed Florida horticulturalist Dr. Henry Nehrling at his Palm Cottage estate as a library and office.

The “Bookshed”
Image from “Henry Nehrling, The Patron Saint of Florida Gardens” by Hedwig Michel

Dr. Nehrling was a 31-year-old Wisconsin schoolteacher and naturalist who purchased 40 acres in 1885 in Gotha, Florida, a small community near Orlando. There he established gardens where he could experiment with tropical and subtropical plants year round. By the turn of the century, Dr. Nehrling’s extensive Palm Cottage Gardens became a popular destination for thousands of tourists, nature lovers and new Florida settlers. Many prominent people of the era such as Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and David Fairchild, the famous botanical explorer, visited. Eventually consisting of 60 acres, the estate was Florida’s first experimental botanical garden where over 3,000 new and rare plants were cultivated and tested.

Dr. Henry Nehrling

Description of the “Bookshed:

In calling distance to his house, away from experimental gardening ‘The Bookshed’ provided the retreat imperative to Henry Nehrling’s scientific turn of mind. Books, magazines, maps, letters, and all the mail delivered to him from far away lands accumulated here. A small one-room pine-walled cabin the bookshed was just what he needed for meditation, a library, a studio where he could check over the results of his experimenting with plantlife, a well-stocked library where he could concentrate to document, sometimes in English, sometimes in German longhand, all his findings. Here the master-engineer had built his own worldwide network to broadcast his research. He left his desk cluttered up with papers, a puzzle to be pieced together in later years. Not before Julian Nally, a New York graduate in archeology, the present owner of the Old Nehrling Place in Gotha, unearthed Nehrling’s manuscripts from old trunks stored in the vault of Rollins College in Winter Park, did the puzzle of Henry Nehrling’s superior writing and unique research ability shape up. The Patron Saint of Florida Gardens was not a utopian dreamer. He achieved perfection through strenuous physical and mental exertion, and realized his dream to show plant lovers his garden and collection of subtropical and tropical trees and shrubs, through labor of love. – “Henry Nehrling, The Patron Saint of Florida Gardens” by Hedwig Michel

Due to encroaching development, only the 6-acre homestead site of Palm Cottage Gardens remains intact today. Remnants of the original 100-year old tree canopy and many of his plantings still exist, and the house is a charming and authentic example of pioneer Florida life. Unfortunately, the “Bookshed” where Dr. Nehrling worked no longer exists; however, the bulk of his library and writings have been saved and are being cataloged for future researchers.

Dr. Nehrling’s Home
The 1880s frame vernacular style home and semi-detached kitchen were
moved by ox-cart to the site in the early 1900s
Image from the FL State Archives

The Henry Nehrling Society, Inc. was established in 1999 by a group of concerned citizens to preserve Dr. Nehrling’s home and horticultural legacy. The Society’s first accomplishment was having Palm Cottage Gardens placed on the National Register of Historic Places in November 2000. Since then, the Society has focused on educating the public about Dr. Nehrling’s importance to the horticultural history of Florida. In November 2009, the Society was able to purchase the home and gardens and ensure its preservation.

The all-volunteer non-profit Society is currently working to raise much needed funds to pay off the mortgage on the historic house and gardens. To this end, they have established a Friend of Nehrling Gardens, “Honorary Deed Program” where benefactors can purchase an “Honorary Deed” for one or more square yard parcels of the property, at $50/square yard. Supporters can go to the website at www.nehrlinggardens.org to donate, become a member, or purchase an honorary deed. The Society is also seeking volunteers for Fundraising, Public Relations, Grant Writing, Volunteer Coordinators and Treasurer as well as items from a “Wish List” for garden tools.

You can schedule a private group tour of Palm Cottage Gardens by contacting theresa.myers(at)nehrlinggardens.org or visiting the website at www.nehrlinggardens.org. Boy and Girl Scout Troops, school groups, service organizations, garden clubs and horticulture groups are also welcome by appointment.

For more information on Dr. Nehrling and the estate:
http://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/group-aims-to-re-establish-legacy-of-florida-963035.html
http://fcbs.org/articles/Henry_Nehrling.htm
A series of three history articles:
http://floridagardener.com/gotha/nehrling.htm
http://floridagardener.com/gotha/nehrling2.htm
http://floridagardener.com/gotha/nehrling3.htm

Posted on May 16, 2011 12:26 am