The Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum complex is located near Wetumpka, Elmore County. Known locally as “Alabama’s Little Corner of Greece,” Jasmine Hill sits on the southernmost ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. It consists of 20 acres of elaborate gardens containing year-round floral designs with sculptures of mythical Greek gods and Olympic heroes constituting the outdoor museum. Cobblestone paths weave through the gardens showcasing the various objects of Greek art. The gardens were open to the public until spring 2020, when the global COVID-19 pandemic forced their closure. In June of that year, the administrators announced that the gardens would close permanently.
Jasmine Hill Gardens The gardens and museum were established in the 1930s by Benjamin (1884-1969) and Mary Johnston Mapes Fitzpatrick (1885-1982). Benjamin was the grandson of Alabama governor and state senator Benjamin Fitzpatrick (1802-1869). He and artist John Kelly Fitzpatrick were distant cousins, having different grandmothers. Before his retirement, the younger Fitzpatrick owned a chain of retail stores in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. In 1927, the couple sold their retail holdings and purchased an 1830s-era cottage located on the rim of the Wetumpka crater. At the time of the purchase, the location was called Sugar Hill, but Mary believed that Jasmine Hill was more appropriate because of the abundance of Confederate jasmine vines in the area.
In the 1930s, the Fitzpatricks conceived of the idea to create an outdoor museum and garden that would feature reproductions of Greek art. Ancient Greece had become a major part of their lives after taking more than 20 trips to the country. The couple attended the American School of Classical Studies in Athens and learned about classical and contemporary Greek culture. They also purchased statues that they brought home to Alabama. These statues would be the centerpieces of the outdoor museum.
Jasmine Hill Gardens Pool Mary, in particular, played a significant role in the layout of the outdoor museum and gardens. She helped to design each area, suggesting flower, art, pool, and fountain locations and layouts, as well as helping to create the flagstone paths. These paths were crafted from stone that had been carved and harvested from neighboring valleys as part of the New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA) program in the 1930s to aid people lacking employment during the Great Depression. These WPA workers were paid a dollar a day to help assemble and arrange the outdoor museum.
By the 1940s, statues made of Pentelic marble from Greece and Carrera marble from Italy were in place. The reproductions depicted the Mourning of Athena, Nike of Samothrace, Venus of Melos, Charioteer of Delphi, Venus of Cyrene, Lion of Delos, and a bust of the legendary writer Homer. Also included was perhaps the world’s only scale reproduction of the ruins of the Temple of Hera at Olympia, Greece.
Benjamin died in 1969, and Mary continued to run the complex for two more years. Then, in 1971, philanthropists and real estate investors Jim and Elmore Inscoe took charge of the outdoor museum and gardens. Apparently, Jim and the couple’s daughter were frequent visitors to the garden and Mary formed a friendship with the Inscoe family, who helped her maintain the gardens. Before her death in 1982, she sold Jasmine Hill to the Inscoe family. (Elmore’s great uncle was Walter Bellingrath who created the Bellingrath estate in Mobile County.)
Temple of Hera The Inscoes formed the nonprofit Jasmine Hill Foundation that continues to operate Jasmine Hill today. The couple was honored by the Alabama State Council on the Arts in 2019 for their contributions to the state’s culture. The family remains involved with the foundation to ensure that the Fitzpatricks’s vision of providing a place for the public to experience Greek art and culture is upheld. They also helped to develop programs designed to educate others regarding the contributions of ancient Greeks to American government and culture. The mission of the gardens began to promote the arts through the displays and maintenance of original works of art or replicas of Greek and Roman statuary, but the additional exhibits and programming have expanded that mission to include horticulture, history, and ancient Greek culture.
Classical Fountain In 1995, Jasmine Hill underwent a major expansion project during which the foundation added new statuary and structures to the gardens. One of the major additions was the Olympian Center, which was built with a faade designed to replicate the Temple of Hera as it looked almost 3,000 years ago. The Olympic Torch passed through Jasmine Hill on its way to Atlanta, Georgia, for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. (The torch also passed through the Jesse Owens Memorial Park in Oakwood, Lawrence County.)
Jasmine Hill is an unusual outdoor garden museum. The flagstone paths follow random routes and the gardens are not pristinely manicured. Instead, the statues are situated in secluded nooks where the natural beauty of blooming flowers and trees can be observed. Azaleas, irises, Japanese cherry trees, daffodils, and flowering crabapple trees are just a few of the perennials scattered across the gardens. A wide variety of annuals may also be found throughout the property.
The gardens are located at 3001 Jasmine Hill Road, Wetumpka. Nearby are the Elmore County Museum, Lake Jackson, and Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson National Historic Park. In addition, Wetumpka is where several scenes of the screen adaptation of Daniel Wallace‘s novel Big Fish were filmed.