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Originally published June 20, 2012 at 7:02 PM | Page modified June 21, 2012 at 12:04 PM

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Kitsap County tribe wins auction for Heronswood Gardens

The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe has eyed Heronswood for years, said Noel Higa, director of the Port Gamble Development Authority, the tribe's economic-development arm.

Seattle Times business reporter

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The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe has won an auction for Heronswood Gardens and Nursery on the Kitsap Peninsula.

The purchase price was not disclosed, but it includes marketing assets, such as the Heronswood website, picture catalogs and trademarks. The deal is expected to close by the end of July.

The tribe has eyed Heronswood for years, said Noel Higa, director of the Port Gamble Development Authority, the tribe's economic-development arm. It has a 1,200-acre reservation roughly a mile away and 400 more acres even closer to Heronswood obtained in a separate deal expected to close next week.

Although only about half of the tribe's 1,200 members live on the reservation, no plans call for the Heronswood property to be used for new housing. It may become a retreat center for weddings and other events, Higa said.

"We've never quite gotten to a crystallized concept of what to do with it, but it's a community source of pride, and we wanted to make sure it stayed available to the community ... " Higa said.

The seed company W. Atlee Burpee & Co. bought the beloved gardens in 2000 for about $4.5 million and added adjacent land two years later for $900,000. It had been trying to sell the 15-acre property for six years.

The minimum bid in the silent, closed-bid auction was $749,000, far below Burpee's initial asking price of $11 million in 2006 and also below its most recent asking price of nearly $1.8 million.

The property includes three residences and a two-story building used for offices and warehousing, according to Sheldon Good & Co., the auction arm of the private equity and real-estate investment firm Racebrook in New York.

The gardens were founded in 1987 by Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones, who created a world-renowned place with plants they collected from all over the world.

They had a thick catalog selling unusual plants listed with their Latin names. The catalog had no pictures or drawings.

Burpee went through bankruptcy proceedings shortly after buying the property and attracted ill will by shrinking the catalog and adding photos to it.

The outrage grew in 2006, when Burpee relocated Heronswood's nursery to other gardens it operates on the East Coast, letting go nearly 20 workers, including the founders.

Burpee will have exclusive rights to use its past Heronswood varieties and collections, along with their names.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or On Twitter @AllisonSeattle.

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