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Group backs away from Heronswood

KINGSTON — The Pacific Northwest Horticultural Conservancy has decided to throw in the trowel for now, announcing it will no longer negotiated with W. Atlee Burpee Company to buy the popular Heronswood gardens, located on 288th Street in Kingston.

Chairwoman Lee Neff said Burpee President George Ball did not respond to letters and offers to buy the property in a timely manner, and did not even seem to be paying attention to the offers.

“He said recently he was potentially going to buy Heronswood himself,” she said, referring to the announcement Ball made Wednesday in which he said he was considering purchasing the gardens as a private resident. “We’d been in negotiations with him since January, and he could have told us yes or no at any time.”

The group was offering to pay $1.7 million based on an evaluation of the grounds and property, but Neff said Ball would settle for no less and $2.7 million from a nonprofit organization. For a private buyer, the price would be about $9 million. Ball was unavailable for comment by press time.

Heronswood Nursery was started in 1987 by Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones, purchased by the Burpee Company in 2000 and “relocated” to Pennsylvania June 2006. The gardens are all that is left of the once internationally-recognized horticultural business, and the PNHC was hoping to restore it as an educational center, among other things.

The conservancy received a $25,000 matching donation through the Kitsap Community Foundation from an anonymous donor in December 2006, and wound up raising about $58,000 before the end of that year. The group has yet to decide what it will do with the money, but if it is not used to purchase Heronswood, it will be split between three of its other causes, Islandwood, the University of Washington Botanical Garden and the Garden Conservancy, Neff said.

“We don't know what to do next,” Neff said. “I think the board will stay together for another year.”

The PNHC advisory board consists of such people as Brooklyn Botanic Garden president and CEO Scot Medbury, radio and television commentator Ciscoe Morris and media mongol Martha Stewart.

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