What started as a private home and garden is turning 90 years old.
Ben and Mary Fitzpatrick started the 22-acre Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum in 1929 when they bought it as a house with an area for a garden. Ben became interested in Greece and Greek architecture when he attended college.
The Fitzpatricks started expanding their garden and making it Greek-styled after visiting the country in the 1930s, according to Jasmine Hill Foundation board president Jim Inscoe.
“They happened to be in Olympia, Greece, when the German archeologists had just discovered Olympia and were digging the ruins and they were uncovering the temple of Hera, which was the first temple outside the entrance to the stadium and where the Olympic flame was started,” Inscoe said.
During the Great Depression, the Fitzpatricks had visiting family and the local Civilian Conservation Corps help build their garden. The Fitzpatricks collected iron railing from New Orleans to place in the garden and family members painted.
The Fitzpatricks returned 21 times to Greece to get inspiration for the garden, according to Inscoe.
“They helped people during the Depression and neighbors who couldn’t afford to keep their property,” said Inscoe, who is not sure how much the Fitzpatricks spent on the gardens.
The family opened the gardens to the public in the 1940s. During World War II, the Fitzpatricks let the Montgomery Greek community use the gardens for fundraisers to send money to the Greek war relief effort.
The FBI investigated the gardens during the war while government flew reconnaissance flights, Inscoe said.
“The government was flying reconnaissance flights looking for some (subversive) activity in the United States and happen to fly over here when the stuff was being constructed and they called the FBI and said, ‘There’s a strange installation going in northwest of Montgomery,’” Inscoe said. “They sent the FBI down to investigate and found out what it was.”
Jim and Elmore Inscoe created the Jasmine Hill Foundation in 1971 and have supported it since.
During the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial celebration, the Smithsonian Institution toured Greek folk dancers at Jasmine Hill. More than 2,000 people attended the event and the Smithsonian gave the gardens a grant to build an amphitheater.
The gardens then started showing movies and had Scottish folk dancers perform there.
“You had blankets and picnics and lots of fun,” consultant Betsy Hosp said. “There are so many people involved in it and it had so many memories for people.”
The gardens expanded in the 1990s with a new statuary and the Olympian Centre being built. The 1996 Olympic flame visited the gardens before going to Atlanta for the Summer Olympics.
The gardens’ flowers are local and a mix of different types so something blooms during every season. The garden has used Japanese Cherry Blossoms before.
“We try to keep the flowers rotating and something’s in bloom all year in various beds,” Inscoe said.
Inscoe said the gardens are trying to remain the way the Fitzpatricks wanted it.
“We tried to continue what the Fitzpatricks had,” Inscoe said. “For them it was their home. Like I said, it was never planned as a public garden but sort of developed that way.”
The gardens are reaching out the community again for partnerships and volunteers and with events planned in the fall such as a photography workshop and mythology day. The gardens are also reaching out to local high school students to put on plays and paint the iron fences.