Take a peek at Jim Scott's Alabama wonderland.

Video courtesy of Orchestrate; www.orch3strate.com

When it comes to photos of his gardens on Lake Martin, Jim Scott says they’re no substitute for the real thing.

“You see a picture of acrobats balancing at the circus and you think, eh,” says the 81-year-old retired attorney. “What really blows your mind is seeing them climbing up and making the pyramid, and what have you.”

The Montgomery native's comparison of the circus to his Alabama gardens is not an unfair one. His sprawling nine-or-so acres of trees and flowers and shrubs are a veritable wonderland, connected by elevated boardwalks; dotted with unexpected amusements, like a larger-than-life chess set and bocce lawn; and spangled with tucked-away surprises, like a hidden grotto and a mosaic-covered wine cellar.

Jim doesn’t know exactly what he’s got growing in his gardens at any given time – his assistant, Jeannie, says Japanese maple and hydrangea are among the lot – but that’s okay with him. The amateur gardener is all about experimenting, bringing in flora that’s interesting to him and waiting to see what sticks. If it works, beautiful. If not, he’s onto the next venture.

“I go through about 30 of them,” he says of the ideas he churns out during brainstorms with Chris, his only full-time employee at the gardens. “When Chris finally nods his head up and down [at an idea], then we’ll probably go with that.”

For the few thousands who come through the gardens every year, whether with their garden clubs or for fundraisers or private events, wandering the rambling paths and encountering whimsy around every bend is nothing short of magical.

But for Jim, taking care of the garden – and adding new elements of surprise to it – is just “something to do.”

“I come here to play and haul rocks and get dirty, and I’m well on my way to being fully dirty today,” Jim says. “To be dog tired with a good glass of wine: What could you ask for that’s better than that?”