“One way to look at gardens is that there are two types: a picture and a story,” says Jim Scott, lawyer by trade and self-made master gardener. “A picture garden is like anybody’s front yard — it is to be seen and looked at from one general position. And I’ve been to some very famous gardens, where I’ve seen that particular picture a hundred times in magazines. And if you stand right in front of that one spot and look at it, it is a knockout. Um, but there it is. You’ve got about three views; it takes about 15 minutes, and you say, ‘Well, I got it.’

“A story garden is more like a story, where you start off with some sort of anticipation. Anybody who writes a story is doing the same kind of thing — you start off with an anticipation, two or three lines that get you hooked, and then you build tension, and then you have a release,” says Jim.

“And in my garden, you start off on a path, and you’ll wonder where it goes. Most of those paths end up being either high or very tight or dark or going up and down steps, where you get a certain amount of tension, because you don’t know where it’s going to go, and then you come to a large open space, where you sort of stop, sit down and say, ‘OK, I’ve arrived.’ Then you see another path that goes somewhere, but you can’t tell where, and so you have a new anticipation.”

Jim Scott's garden in Lake Martin is pure beauty. The whole property is about 12 acres, and about two-thirds is landscaped, the rest woods.

Jim Scott’s garden at Lake Martin is pure beauty. The whole property is about 12 acres, and about two-thirds of it is landscaped, while the rest is woods.

From the waterside green space, a winding stone stairway leads up towards a beautiful swimming hole.

From the waterside green space, a winding stone stairway leads up towards a beautiful swimming hole.

A stone retaining wall with built in seats surrounds the main green.

A stone retaining wall with built-in seats surrounds the main green.

The gardens play host to charitable organizations for fundraisers, and the multiple seating areas are perfect for mixing and mingling at such events.

The gardens play host to charitable organizations for fundraisers, and the multiple seating areas are perfect for mixing and mingling at such events.

The lake water is pumped from the lake and circulates through the extensive system of waterfalls, ponds and swimming holes.

The lake water is pumped from the lake and circulates through the extensive system of waterfalls, ponds and swimming holes.

This pretty little pond overlooks the main green.

This pretty little pond overlooks the main green.

Stone steps lead the way for adventurous swimmers.

Stone steps lead the way for adventurous swimmers.

Jim Scott’s sprawling garden at Lake Martin in Alabama is an immersive, 360-degree experience that swallows you in its verdant grandeur. It’s like a living choose-your-own-adventure book, a veritable forest wonderland where one can truly get lost in the natural beauty of endless wild and winding paths, al fresco dining areas, castle-like structures, caves, swimming ponds, treetop walkways and more, all peppered with thought-provoking quotes, playfully placed statues, imaginative play areas — for adults and children — and, of course, a wine cellar.

“It’s really more of an experience than a view,” says Jim, who discovered his magical green thumb while designing Grace Gardens at Grace Episcopal Church in Mt. Meigs, Alabama. “Generally speaking, with my garden, you can walk for a couple of hours and still be running into stuff you haven’t seen before.”

Winding steps and trails meander through the gardens in an almost maze-like fashion.

Winding steps and trails meander through the gardens in an almost maze-like fashion.

A stairway leads to a turquoise door, beckoning you to discover what's on the other side.

A stairway leads to a turquoise door, beckoning you to discover what’s on the other side.

A chair is situated atop this display, enticing you to climb above for an aerial view.

A chair is situated atop this display, enticing you to climb above for an aerial view.

Ferns seem to crawl out of the stone, reaching toward this well manicured court.

Ferns seem to crawl out of the stone, reaching toward this well-manicured court.

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A circular enclosure and yet another door peak one's curiosity.

A circular enclosure and yet another door pique one’s curiosity.

The path below criss-crosses with another wooden path suspended among the trees above.

The path below criss-crosses with another wooden path suspended among the trees above.

This beautiful stone archway is a grand entrance into this green space.

This beautiful stone archway is a grand entrance into this green space.

One cannot witness this garden without wondering about its creator. What drove this tax lawyer to create such a wondrous and enchanting garden? The answers are almost as mysterious, fascinating and amusing as the man himself.

Jim’s voice is characteristically Southern: gentle, melodic, honest and funny. When pressed about his creative process, he replies, “One thing led to another. I’d get to a point and say, ‘What the hell am I going to do here?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, you know, this would be cool or this would be kind of weird.’ And you kind of piddle around with an idea, draw it up and play with it, just to see what it looks like. And it’s fun buying the plants and seeing if they will come up,” says Jim. “I’ve killed about a million unhappy Yankee plants, and everybody says you can’t grow them in the South, and, by God, I prove that they are absolutely right.”

“I suppose I’ve got the designs for a thousand gardens,” says Jim, whose frequent travels obviously include notable gardens, such as Chanticleer, one of his favorites. But Jim draws inspiration from no particular place, and that’s evident in the garden’s singular design. It is both rambling and eloquent, like a mind in meditation. “It’s got a lot of very formal spaces in that the croquet court is exactly twice as long as it is wide; the palladium space and a number of other spaces are geometrically perfect after you get through really weird, wandering-around, haphazard bits,” says Jim. “I think it’s nice to have that juxtaposition of wildness and tameness. It’s sort of like a Greek tragedy, where you have really wild ideas in very formal settings. And the garden juxtaposes woodland with fairly formal spaces.”

An expertly chosen assortment of plants offers a lovely array of colors.

An expertly chosen assortment of plants offers a lovely array of colors.

One almost expects for the Cheshire cat to appear in this wonderland.

One almost expects for the Cheshire Cat to appear in this wonderland.

Bushes and trees frame the green walkways as if in a fairy tale.

Bushes and trees frame the green walkways as if in a fairy tale.

This whimsical wooded wonderland is for the kiddos!

This whimsical wooded wonderland is for the kiddos!

Enclosed among gigantic stones, this mossy brick patio is the perfect setting for a magical evening dinner under the stars or an afternoon lunch under the canopy of trees above.

Enclosed among gigantic stones, this mossy brick patio is the perfect setting for a magical dinner under the stars or an afternoon lunch under the canopy of trees above.

Beside a mini waterfall, mischievous Puck overlooks the revelry.

Beside a mini waterfall, mischievous Puck overlooks the revelry.

The dining area slips away among the stones.

The dining area slips away among the stones.

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In Greek mythology, Pan is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds and rustic music, and companion of the nymphs.

In Greek mythology, Pan is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds and rustic music, and companion of the nymphs.

This literary influence has deep roots in Jim’s design approach. Quotes from famous works are the cosmetic touches on this earthly paradise, but grammatical structure comprises its bones. “The chairs and benches are like the ending of a paragraph or a sentence in that you come to a seat and you may not sit there, but you slow down and think about how it’d be nice to sit there,” says Jim. “There are lots of benches and tables and things to do. Nobody ever does them much, but everybody mentally does them. It’s kind of like if you go to Europe and you climb around the castles and go up in the towers. You really don’t want to have people shooting arrows at you or killing you, but you sort of mentally go through that. And I think each time you put a table out, people mentally have dinner there, and I think they kind of enjoy it.”

Jim uses literature in his garden oasis to poke at the line between poetry and reality. A guest might meander along a mossy path and come upon a stone bench inscribed with the passage from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, wherein Oberon tells Puck the ingredients for a love potion, and those very ingredients are planted about the bench. Another guest might encounter the word “reality” inscribed upside-down on the door that goes into the kiddie land. “If you look at it through your legs, it reads correctly,” says Jim, who also has a stone bench with reality inscribed in reverse and a mirror cleverly positioned nearby. “If you come to it one way, people don’t even realize it’s a mirror. So, I was sort of concluding that reality can be the exact opposite of what you think it is, but anyways, that’s neither here nor there.”

"I planted everything that is called for in that particular [Shakespeare] quote, and I guess I could say it didn’t work," says Jim. "But I liked the idea that there was a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is a nice sort of thing that takes place in a garden, and that I actually planted all the plants in that quote."

“I planted everything that is called for in that particular [Shakespeare] quote, and I guess I could say it didn’t work,” says Jim. “But I liked the idea that there was a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is a nice sort of thing that takes place in a garden, and that I actually planted all the plants in that quote.”

One of the creative structures in Jim Scott's garden

One of the creative structures in Jim Scott’s garden

"A couple of big cedar trees blew down near Grace Church, and I got that cedar built into those chess men," says Jim. "And so it’s kind of like one garden contributed to another."

“A couple of big cedar trees blew down near Grace Church, and I got that cedar built into those chess men,” says Jim. “And so it’s kind of like one garden contributed to another.”

A tiny cherub ponders life among the trees.

A tiny cherub ponders life among the trees.

Built-in stone seats are perfect for a moment of respite beside the trickle of the fountain.

Built-in stone seats are perfect for a moment of respite beside the trickle of the fountain.

A grassy walkway passes by a bench attached to a small house.

A grassy walkway passes by a bench attached to a small house.

A stone walkway leads to this wine cellar.

A stone walkway leads to this wine cellar.

Why the wine cellar? "It's just because I like wine," says Jim.

Why the wine cellar? “It’s just because I like wine,” says Jim.

There's a cozy seating area surrounded by pastoral murals. We can only imagine the romantic, Old World feel of enjoying a glass of wine in this candlelit cellar.

There’s a cozy seating area surrounded by pastoral murals. We can only imagine the romantic, Old World feel of enjoying a glass of wine in this candlelit cellar.

This pool features a built-in bar with a glass wine cooler inside of it.

This pool features a built-in bar with a glass wine cooler inside of it.

A curving stone staircase winds around the waterfall and pool.

A curving stone staircase winds around the waterfall and pool.

The garden's many water features provide the pleasant babble of rushing waters.

The garden’s many water features provide the pleasant babble of rushing waters.

A clever brick design on this patio allows for a small grassy clearing.

A clever brick design on this patio allows for a small grassy clearing.

A large group can grab a seat and take in the beauty of nature and the pleasure of conversation in this semicircular nook.

A large group can grab a seat and take in the beauty of nature and the pleasure of conversation in this semicircular nook.

“If you come to it one way, people don’t even realize it’s a mirror," says Jim of this bench. "So, I was sort of concluding that reality can be the exact opposite of what you think it is, but anyways, that’s neither here nor there.”

“If you come to it one way, people don’t even realize it’s a mirror,” says Jim of this bench. “So, I was sort of concluding that reality can be the exact opposite of what you think it is, but anyways, that’s neither here nor there.”

A porch landing among the trees offers a serene view of the lake.

A porch landing among the trees offers a serene view of the lake.

This view from above reveals a grassy landing, as well as a fun stone island in the water.

This view from above reveals a grassy landing, as well as a fun stone island in the water.

A beautiful lakeside gazebo features a gorgeous canopy of flowers.

A beautiful lakeside gazebo features a gorgeous canopy of flowers.

Beautiful blooms even bedazzle the deck!

Beautiful blooms even bedazzle the deck!

We'd love to toast to a long day spent splashing at the water's edge and playing in the garden at this table with friends and loved ones!

We’d love to toast to a long day spent splashing at the water’s edge and playing in the garden at this table with friends and loved ones!

When pressed about the origins of his literary and philosophical musings, Jim presses back. “I am the most ordinary mortal that you’d ever want to cross paths with, and there’s nothing about me that would interest anybody other than my own mother,” he insists. “I am that guy that you walk by a thousand of every day and don’t even know they are there.”

However, once lost in this garden of thought-provoking splendor, one can only beg to differ with the author of this story garden.

If you’d like to see the garden up close, it’s open Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in late March through May for garden clubs or master gardening groups to tour, free of charge. Groups must be 20 people or more. To schedule a tour, contact Jeannie Curtis at (334) 740-2091.

Thank you to Heydon Hatcher of H. Hatcher Photography for the stunning images of this glorious garden!

And, of course, a special thanks to Jim Scott for sharing his fabulous garden and personality with us!

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