The Nehrling Years  

In 1885, Henry Nehrling, a 31-year-old Wisconsin schoolteacher and naturalist, purchased 40 acres of land in the newly founded community of Gotha, Florida in Western Orange County. His dream was of a garden where he could grow his tropical and sub-tropical plants outside year round.

At the turn of the century, Henry's Palm Cottage Gardens was 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.

The garden ultimately became Florida's first experimental botanical garden where Dr. Nehrling tested over 3000 new and rare plants for the USDA. Of these, over 300 new and beneficial plants were introduced into Florida's landscape including caladiums, hybrid amaryllis, and gloriosa lilies. These plants were the foundation for Florida's thriving nursery industry.

Today, the caladium industry alone is worth more than 13 million dollars to the state's economy. Dr. Nehrling was not motivated by money, but his love of plants and dedication to the advancement of horticulture. He only wanted a garden to grow the plants that he loved and introduce them to one and all who stopped to visit. Little did he realize the far-reaching impact of his work.



Article from: The Florist Exchange and Horticultural Trade World
November 30, 1929, page 39


Dr. Nehrling was one of those bright lights in the horticultural firmament who, though not primarily associated with commercial activities, rendered during his long and active lifetime a tremendous service to the horticultural cause in all its phases, more especially with reference to the development of the possibilities of the plant growth of tropical America in general and the State of Florida in particular.

Born in Sheboygan Co. Wisconsin, Dr. Nehrling started his life work as a teacher, practicing at various times in Illinois, Missouri and Texas and giving special attention to natural history with emphasis on botanical and ornithological subjects. Later he spent a couple of years in Milwaukee, first as Deputy Collector and Inspector of Customs and later for a decade as secretary and custodian of the Milwaukee Museum. Meanwhile, about 1886, he established at Palm Cottage Gardens in Gotha, Fla. an extensive experimental station, and began to collect plants from all parts of the world with the view to discovering their adaptabilities for practical use in that State.

Climatic conditions resulting in the loss of much of his valuable stock later impelled him to move farther south where he could be sure of a more uniform climate. Here, at Naples-by-the-Sea he continued his investigational work, cooperating generously with State and Federal agencies and accumulating a mass of valuable information and material much of which he has made available for the use of future horticulturalists.

From one who has long been close to him, we have been privileged to secure the following sketch of his character and achievements which indicates well to what an extent the horticulture and botany of the South and the nation are indebted to this painstaking, enthusiastic, altruistic student and pioneer.

"Henry was a true Nature lover. The material things in life meant little to him. He cared most for his plants, books, friends and family. For nearly 50 years he had been gathering seeds and plants from all over the world which were planted at Palm Cottage Gardens, at Gotha, Fla. many of which stand today as a monument to his work. His enthusiasm for his plants had no bounds and his garden contains many rare and valuable specimens. He corresponded with kindred spirits all over the world and his library, which is one of the most extensive horticultural libraries in the country, contains among other treasures, a complete set of the Gardeners Chronicles of England."

"He was also a plant breeder and developed and marketed, through Henry A. Dreer, the first hybrid amaryllis produced in this country. In 1904 he became interested in fancy leaved Caladiums and was the first person to grow them on a commercial scale in Florida. He brought together the finest varieties from all over the world and later began crossing the plants. Many of the fine transparent varieties are the results of his crosses."

"Palms also interested him greatly and he had in his large collection species that cannot be found elsewhere. Only recently, Dr. Liberty Hyde Bailey paid him a visit with the express purpose of consulting with him about some of the rare species. Dr. Bailey was particularly interested in one to which he gave the name Cocos (or Butia) Nehrlingiana. Other plants which greatly interested Dr. Nehrling were the Bamboos, Cycads, Ficus, Orchids and Bromeliads."

"In his younger days Henry Nehrling was a prolific writer on ornithological, botanical, and horticultural subjects. His book, "The North American Birds of Song and Beauty", published in 1893, is a classic and gave him an international reputation. He was regular contributor to Garden and Forest, and later his writings appeared in Die Gartenwelt, Gardeners Chronicles and other foreign publications. He was also a contributor to Bailey's Encyclopedia. His doctor's degree was conferred by a foreign institution" (a German University).

"Henry Nehrling loved Florida and did his utmost to develop the horticultural possibilities of his adopted State. Two years ago his efforts were publicly recognized when The Garden Club of Florida, at its annual meeting, passed a resolution to the effect that Dr. Theodore L Mead and Dr. Henry Nehrling had done more to develop Florida horticulturally than any other two men in the State. Last winter, at Miami, Dr. David Fairchild presented him on behalf of the U. S. Bureau of Plant Industry with the Frank N. Myer Medal for meritorious services in the field of Plant Introduction. He was a collaborator with the Plant Industry Bureau and for it tried out many new plants collected by the Office of Plant Introduction. Ever since Thomas A. Edison became interested in the commercial rubber production he has kept in constant touch with Dr. Nehrling."

"The Associated Press of Nov. 23 announced the death on Friday, Nov. 22 of Dr. Henry Nehrling, a nationally known horticulturist who passed away at Orlando, Florida at the age of 76. Dr. Nehrling is survived by his wife and five sons and two daughters in whom from their early childhood he tried too develop a love for plants. That he succeeded is evidenced by the fact that all five sons are engaged in some phase of horticultural work. Walter is a landscape gardener for the Eastern Illinois State Normal University at Charleston; Bruno is landscape architect for Highland Cemetery, South Bend, Ind.; Arno H. is sales manager for the Hill Floral Products Co., Richmond, Ind; Werner is sales manager for the Florida Plumosus Growers Cooperative Association, De Land, FLa; Berthold is engaged in floricultural work on Long Island, N.Y. The two daughters, Mrs. Alfred Walbek and Mrs. Louis Philip reside at Miami, Fla."

The Nally Years

Excerpt from: Winter Garden Times Thursday May 24, 1979 written by Terry Bailey
Reprinted with the permission of The West Orange Times

"Julian Nally: A Spiritual Heir"

In 1933, E. J. Nally, president of the Radio Corporation of America, his wife and their son, a 33 year old aspiring poet, were traveling through Florida. The night they were to leave Orlando, after a week's stay at the St. Regis Hotel on Church Street, a want ad in the Orlando Sentinel caught the senior Nally's eye.

"Whispering pines on a luxuriant estate, hidden by oaks forests and colorful with tropical bloom" the ad read. "It was intriguing," Julian recalled, "despite the obvious real estate effort at literary copy."

The next morning they went with a real estate agent to investigate. Julian's description of his first look at the estate could have been written yesterday: "With a swoop we ducked off (Hempel Road), down a six or seven foot abrupt entrance and down an avenue of cedar trees heavily festooned with moss. The grounds were a tangle - literally a jungle of closely interlaced greenery, all heavily bedecked with Spanish moss. What caught my eye as we rolled uncertainly around the almost obliterated remains of a drive was the magnificent stand of bamboo. And then the house - simple and unadorned with a small balcony running the length of the western front, pillars extending to the roof. Rambling sedately off to the north was an outstanding building, which turned out to be the kitchen and dining room - the whole cunningly connected by a porch."

The house Julian Nally described was not the house that Dr. Nehrling built when he first came to Gotha in 1886. This two story, wood frame house was moved to the property about the turn-of-the-century, rolled in sections on logs an ox cart from "downtown" Gotha. Rebuilt on the west side of the lake, the stylish house with high ceilings, porches and wide verandas became the Nehrling home and a popular gathering place for family and friends.

By the time the Nallys happened upon Palm Cottage Gardens it had changed hands several times and the house and property were in sad shape. Many of the shrubs and plants had been stolen or sold.

Still, Henry Nehrling's garden was a majestic sight which the Nallys immediately fell in love with and bought. It is said that the senior Nally bought the estate as a place of seclusion where his son could pursue his poetry, but if anything, it was a distraction to Julian's writing - he became totally involved in a love affair with the garden, a love which equalled that of his predecessor.

Dr. Nehrling's biographer, Hedwig Michel, called Julian one of the "Spiritual Heirs to the Patron Saint of Florida Gardens."

In the 1960's, Dr. Nehrling's son, Professor Arno Nehrling of Boston, and his wife, Irene, visited the Nally's in Gotha and were thrilled with what they found. "Julian Nally certainly has the feeling and spirit of the place", Irene wrote, "...how thrilled and happy Henry Nehrling would be and surprised too."

A New Era

When Julian Nally moved to Gotha in 1935, he spent most of his time refurbishing the old house, studying the estate's history and recording everything in his delightfully written diary. It is obvious to anyone who reads his diary that Julian Nally had what it takes to be a successful writer. But there weren't enough hours in the day.

That first winter Julian made a partial list of plants in the front yard - a catalogue of over 250 Latin plant names.

Soon Julian was making histoy of his own. He began his horticultural career raising Gloriosa Lilies, a rare orchid-like flower native in Uganda. The splendid red and yellow flowers which he popularized, marketing them across the nation, today grow wild about the estate.

In 1940 he married Margrat Austin Scudder. She soon became wrapped up in growing orchids and developed a love for the property as strong as her husband's.

He began collecting as many different varieties of these plants as he could get his hands on, buying many from the well known local nurseryman Harry Smith (who Julian later entered business with), and having them sent from South America. He received many of his most valuable specimens from his friend, Mulford Foster, of Clarcona, known as the "Father of Bromeliads".

Eventually Julian had a large nursery on the property, growing his bromeliads in the shade of oak and pine trees as well as in greenhouses.

He originated several varieties of these plants, one of which he named Maginali after his wife. The Maginali has a particularly pretty bloom of red beads, which Julian marketed as a cut flower.

Today, literally millions of bromeliads - over fifty varieties - carpet acres of the grounds, giving the effect of going on for miles.

A member of the Bromeliad Society, Julian became recognized, along with Mulford Foster, as one of the world's foremost experts on the plants. and, like Dr. Nehrling, Nally was a widely read scholar who was occasionally asked to lecture at Rollins. He collaborated with Alfred Jackson Hanna of Rollins on several books. Julian also served on the board of trustees of the West Orange Memorial Hospital from 1963 to 1976.

In the summer of 1977, Julian and Margret Nally died within a month of each other.

The Bochiardy Years

At that time, the property again lay idle until it was purchased and subdivided by a group of developers. The house and six acres of the gardens were rescued by Howard and Barbara Bochiardy in 1981.

It is this remnant that The Henry Nehrling Society proposes to save and operate as Nehrling Gardens .