For 40 years, Nancy Forrester has been tending this garden and inviting the public to share in her love of plants and animals. Tucked away at the end of tiny Freeschool Lane, Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden sits in the center of some of the densest development in the country.
That this priceless parcel has escaped development is nothing less than a miracle. Developers regularly salivate over the property, certain that it could be turned into nine upscale vacation homes. But Nancy vowed that would never happen. When the Forrester family acquired the land in 1969, it was used primarily as a dumping ground. Nancy immediately began cleaning it up and planting a variety of tropical plants around the site’s existing 50 trees.
Step into this oasis today and the side-by-side buildings of Old Town disappear, hidden from view by a tropical rainforest full of orchids, Bromeliads, ferns, and more than 150 species of palms. Along the path, squawking parrots, macaws, and cockatoos perch in cages, competing for attention. The birds were added some years ago, when Nancy became aware that exotic birds all over the country needed rescuing. She began taking them in, creating a Parrot Rescue Preserve to care for them and place them in new homes.
Unfortunately, the garden may be too much of a secret. Its location at the end of an inconspicuous alleyway makes it difficult to find, and since the bulk of the funds required to run the garden are provided by Nancy personally, there is little money to advertise. Even the modest $10 entrance fee collected at the gate on the “honor system” does little to defray costs. Realizing she could no longer afford to personally shoulder the expenses, Nancy transferred stewardship of the garden to the Mana Project, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization created specifically for this task.
For her 70th birthday last year, Nancy requested donations to continue the legacy of the garden. So far, the donations have been few and the fate of the garden is uncertain. At the moment, however, Nancy continues to run the day-to-day operations under the auspices of the Mana Project, hoping for a miracle that will save it for future generations. So far, Nancy is hanging in there. I, for one, fervently hope that the squawks of the macaws will never be replaced by the roar of the bulldozer.
To learn more, watch the three part video series about the Mana Project that was produced by GoodTube.
Whether planning to visit Key west for a week, a weekend, or just a day trip, visitors will discover hundreds of fun things to do on this funky isle that marks the southernmost spot in the U.S.
Photos courtesy of Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels