Florida Keys News
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Secret Garden's Free School Lane entrance closes

The secret is out -- out of the hands of Nancy Forrester, who has maintained the last undeveloped acre of land in Key West's Old Town for more than 40 years.

The tucked-away entrance to Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden off Free School Lane in the 500 block of Simonton Street will be closed to the public after today, as finances and property taxes have forced Forrester to sell the land parcels that have housed an artist's cottage and gallery, parrots, orchids, rare palms, meandering pathways and a meditative garden for more than four decades.

An informal gathering is planned there from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today as a "celebration of life" for the acre that has long welcomed residents, tourists, artists, writers, botanists and anyone seeking solace from the downtown chaos.

"I've not planned anything, but people are coming, and bringing food, drinks, drums, spirit and memories," she said.

It will be the last time the Free School Lane entrance is open to the public, Forrester said Friday.

She retains ownership of the attached property at 518 Elizabeth St. that abuts the garden acreage, and has moved the parrots and orchids there, where she will continue to invite visitors to explore the educational displays she will install on that property.

"I've always had the two entrances, but since I'm no longer able to use Free School Lane, I'll be using 518 Elizabeth," she said. "And since I no longer have a rainforest garden, I'll be offering more educational displays about the orchids and parrots."

She optimistically called the change a "metamorphosis" and a "resurgence of creative energy."

The garden art gallery, which featured antique prints and Forrester's photos of the resident parrots, orchids and other wildlife, is temporarily closed but will reopen at 518 Elizabeth St. in the next two weeks or so, she said.

The garden's Facebook page is filled with comments from former visitors who lament its passing, and are reluctant to see what will become of the undeveloped acre when it becomes private property.

The 18,000-square-foot wooded parcel is on the market for $2.5 million and listed by Truman & Co. Real Estate, according to Key West's Multiple Listings Service.

"Nancy Forrester has worked passionately to preserve the last undeveloped, wooded parcel of land in Old Town," the listing states. "Almost 18,000 square feet of large specimen palms, bamboo and native trees fill the enchanted topography. The newly renovated one-bedroom guest cottage is ready for you to move into while you contemplate building your dream home nestled in the heart of Eden."

While the garden's supporters lament its sale, anonymous online commenters posting on the real estate site have stated that the noise from the neighboring parrots at 518 Elizabeth St. will discourage buyers from contemplating the purchase, and have prompted them to wonder how long Forrester will be able to continue her mission in a residential neighborhood.

The visitor hours at 518 Elizabeth St. will remain the same, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and all are invited to bid farewell to one of Key West's best-kept secrets today, by using the Free School Lane entrance for the very last time.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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