April 2006
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Jasmine Hill Gardens: Alabama’s Little Corner of Greece

 
  This Egyptian Marble Fountain is an original piece, 300 years old, from a harem in Cairo, Egypt. The terra cotta vases around the fountain are originals from a garden in Tuscany, decorated with the coats of arms of families in Italy.
by Ginny Farmer

People from all over the world come to visit Alabama’s "little corner of Greece" in Wetumpka, Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum. Some come to learn, some come to relax, and some even come to create their own art.

Every now and then, some stay all day, lose track of time and have to be reminded that the garden closes at 5 p.m. These lingerers are not to be blamed, though, because it’s easy to get lost in the gardens’ intricate stone details and fresh-flower aromas.

"Jasmine Hill is a unique place," said Jim Inscoe, owner of Jasmine Hill. "A lot of people think of it as a grandmother’s type of garden because it’s not so manicured. It’s more relaxed. You can actually touch and feel the plants, and you feel more at home."

Among its cherry trees, pansies, poppies, snapdragons, camellias, crepe myrtles and literally countless other varieties of plant life are more than 40 stunning tributes to Greek and Roman culture. From the Olympian Centre and a marble bust of Homer, to the Dolphin Fountain, Lion of Delos and Venus de Melos, Jasmine Hill has on display enjoyable and educational sights that attract everyone from schoolchildren to brides.

 
The Two Figures from the Nike Balustrade are from the railing of a small temple to the Athena Nike and portray her fastening a sandal and hanging a trophy.  
Created in the 1930s by Benjamin and Mary Fitzpatrick, Jasmine Hill has adornments that were lovingly chosen over many years, and the gardens have expanded even more since being sold to the Inscoes in 1971. Although Jasmine Hill is no longer open all year, its wedding garden and Olympian Centre are available to be rented for receptions, meetings and other events.

The visitor center was built in 1996, after the Jasmine Hill Foundation nonprofit organization was created. Patterned after Calloway Gardens, the foundation allowed Jasmine Hill to be eligible for grants and sources of revenue that might not have been available otherwise, and also made donations tax deductible.

Along with the visitor center, a new entrance and extra parking were put in place. Much of this was done in connection with the Olympics’ arrival in Atlanta. The Montgomery celebration for the 1996 Olympics included the passing of the Olympic flame at the replica of the Temple of Hera, where in Greece the torch was actually lit.

 
  The Temple of Hera Ruins depicts the Temple of Hera at Olympia, site of the original Olympic games.
Jasmine Hill’s temple ruins are the only exact replicas of the Temple of Hera in the United States. They are kept so accurate that if additional pieces are discovered in Greece, copies of them are added to the replica. Inscoe said the temple ruins, built in the early 1940s, are the most impressive and memorable sight in the gardens, but all of the statues are excellent copies of the original works of art. Many were purchased in Greece by the Fitzpatricks, who had an exceptional passion for Greek culture.

"You can see the progression of Greek art at Jasmine Hill displayed in exhibit form probably better than in Greece," Inscoe said.

Visitors to Jasmine Hill will notice that winding and crossing paths lead them in circles through the gardens, where they will discover something exciting around every corner. The stonework is unique because the stones are found naturally on the property, and many were placed by hand by people who worked at the gardens during the Great Depression. Inscoe said such intricate stonework would be nearly impossible to recreate today because of the labor cost. The pathways are maintained every year, though, with some portions having to be reset because of movement of the land. Other paths are still being added, though, in order to accommodate people with disabilities.

 
Wall plaques such as this line the brick wall surrounding the gardens. Many of these glazed ceramics are copies of works by the Italian sculptor Della Robbia.  
Over the years, knowledgeable Jasmine Hill employees have helped to keep the hundreds of varieties of flowering trees, shrubs and annuals healthy and abundant. Flowerbeds are traded out each season, with summer flowers like begonias and marigolds blooming in the spring, and pansies thriving in the colder weather.

Most of the same types of flowers are planted each year, but in different varieties. Inscoe said, for example, that this year a new variety of begonia is being introduced.

Inscoe said he shares the love for Greek culture implemented by the Fitzpatricks. "We owe a lot to the ancient Greeks," he said.

He and his wife have visited Greece about 15 times, viewing the originals of statues displayed at Jasmine Hill, and also witnessing the lighting of the Olympic flame in 1996 and in 2004.

Inscoe said schoolchildren from all over the state who are studying Greek and Roman culture come to Jasmine Hill to get a taste of "how it really looked." They hold picnics and eat Greek-inspired food, and have mock Olympics complete with award ceremonies. "History comes alive in Greek and Roman culture at Jasmine Hill," Inscoe said.

 
  Venus de Melos greets visitors on their way to see the Marathon Boy atop a fountain.
Tour groups can request talks on just about any subject related to Jasmine Hill, such as horticulture, Greek art or the Olympics.

"The gardens make a pretty good laboratory for plants," Inscoe said. "After going to a nursery and seeing what the young plants look like, you can come here and see them mature."

He said much can be learned about horticulture at Jasmine Hill because so much attention is paid to spacing, sunlight and shade, and color combinations.

Inscoe said maintaining the 22 acres of gardens is an involved process. The plants are watered through an irrigation system, some of which is part of the gardens’ original irrigation system.

Three employees take care of the gardens, making sure the plants are watered and fertilized, and that they are not being destroyed by insects. Anthills are a common problem. "The work never ends," Inscoe said.

Kenny Bowden, who is the head caretaker and has been working at Jasmine Hill for the past eight years, works as a gardener, plumber and electrician, and even helps to set up for weddings.

Most of the flowers, trees and shrubs are purchased from nurseries around the central-Alabama region. Many supplies used to care for them are purchased at the Elmore County Farmers Exchange. These supplies include seed, fertilizers, chemicals and equipment such as lawn-mower parts. "We do a lot with the Co-op and the Farmers’ Exchange," Bowden said. "They do an extremely good job for us."

The main fertilization is done in the spring after the camellias and azaleas bloom. Inscoe said the plants are not fertilized before blooming so that new growth doesn’t overcome the blossoms.

Lawns are fertilized all summer, and non-blooming trees are fertilized in February. Fertilization is not done in the fall because fresh growth and new plants would die in frosts and freezes.

Inscoe said he hopes that someday the gardens will be able to reopen all year round, but people seem to be satisfied with being able to visit during the spring. Jasmine Hill opened to the public on March 11 this year, and will stay open until May 14. The gardens are open Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday from noon till 5 p.m.

Guided tours are available, but it is also fun and easy to take a self-guided tour with the descriptive map provided to visitors. For more information about visiting Jasmine Hill Gardens or using its event facilities, call (334) 567-6463, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.jasminehill.org.