I first published this essay in March 2008 and I have re-posted it today following publication of today's Key west Citizen advising the Secret garden has in fact been sold to cover the owner's various obligations and will close this afternoon forever.Key West is not a town one can keep a secret in very easily, and by now I would venture a guess that just about everyone and her brother knows there's a profusion of greenery open to public inspection in the very heart of the city.Free School Lane is not such a weird a name for an alley in a city that boasts innumerable little paths and tracks all over town, Nassau, Love, Gruntbone, Poorhouse, to name but a few. Free School Lane has housed this acre of greenery for several decades, alone among lanes and alleys.Plants have been growing, the collection of parrots is extremely loud in their cages, and they are to be moved to 518 Elizabeth street for continued public viewing, while in the old garden the sunlight is still quite dappled on the huge tree trunks and the enormous dinner plates of green leaves for as long as the garden remians undeveloped. Free School Lane lies off Simonton Street, the artery that parallels infamous Duval Street. There are fewer shops on Simonton, and there is more shade. Fewer traffic lights than Duval and much less traffic making it easier to get from Simonton beach to the north to United street to the south if one needs to get across old town in a hurry. Free School Lane is marked on the cement street light post, halfway between Southard and Fleming Streets, which are in turn the major old town arteries leading onto and off Duval Street. And there is ample parking...designated for motorcycles and scooters. The Secret Garden was a desirable commodity a refreshment tucked away and available for those that want to stay within walking distance of the bars of Duval, Key West's other refreshment.What strikes me about places like this is, aside from the care lavished on the plants that I, a failed botanist with a memory like a sieve, could not hope to name, is how much I value these small corners of extravagant exuberance. Living in the Keys I take no space for granted, I cannot allow myself to overlook any object of interest.Not only is there too little land to do that, everything in a market as overpriced as this, is by its very nature transient. A guesthouse next door to the garden, a modest white wood home was for sale in the paper for one point three million dollars on my visit to the garden in March of 2008, when I originally published this essay. Now the garden itself will be gone in a few short hours, closed to the public awaiting it's fate.Each visit was, in addition to refreshment, a small statement of defiance against the forces of change, of "improvement," of destruction in the name of maximum return on investment.
$10, charged on the rather old fashioned "honor system" seemed a small price to pay to wander in peace for a while.