The Bok Tower Gardens are an oasis of greenery and tranquillity. Unlike most of Florida’s attractions this one does not consist of providing noisy and garish opportunities to remove money from your pocket. Rather it is a vast acreage of lush gardens and untrammelled forest land (home to several unique endangered species of plants and animals). Located to the north of Lake Wales, it is a 250 acre sanctuary for man, bird and beast.
Conceived in 1921 and opened in 1929 the Gardens are testimony to Edward Bok’s ethos. “Make the world a bit better or more beautiful...” his mother advised. He did.
He created a sanctuary for about 126 species of Florida’s birds and in doing so he has also ensured that many plants, trees and wildlife are now protected from the depredations of development that has consumed much of Florida. The gardens are the last preserve of the endangered gopher tortoise, the eastern indigo snake, the Florida mouse and the longleaf pine forest – all of which are fast vanishing elsewhere.
The gardens are a composite of natural pine forests, sand-hill scrub, planned flower beds, nature trails, man-made water bodies and the incredible Singing Tower. Set on the highest point in Florida, Edward Bok’s Gardens are a botanical wonderland.
The gardens are the work of landscape architect, Frederick Olmsted Jr. It involved planting thousands of live oaks, azaleas, sabal palms and magnolias. This is in addition to the indigenous flowering plants. What has resulted is a fabulous constantly changing tapestry of blooms. It is a spectacular example of nature’s artistic talents.
Fruit shrubs such as blueberry, holly and other carefully selected plants were planted, which now attract hundreds of migrating birds and feed the stay-at-home ones too.
To put it in a nutshell the gardens could (if you want to be precise) be highlighted thus:
River of Stone: A pebble pathway that seems to flow from the Visitor Centre with 30 different species of the plant, Tillandsia lining its route.
Pinewood Estate Gardens: A beautiful 20 room Mediterranean-style manor surrounded by gardens and the exceptional Oriental Moon Gate, Frog Fountain, Vegetable Garden and the Grotto.
Pine Ridge Nature Trail: Is a ¾ mile walking trail that winds through the gardens.
Reflection Pool: If ever water and stone was harmonised by man then truly ‘this is it.’ Frederic Olmsted Jr. designed the pathway with trees hiding the view till you reach the pool. It is here that the Singing Tower can be seen in all its glory.
The Singing Tower: Is a 205 foot yellow stone neo-Gothic structure that houses one of the world’s most melodic and largest carillon bells in the world. The carillon at Bok Tower Gardens is made up of 60 bells. They perform their metallic concerts every day at 1pm and 3pm. It is a National Historic Landmark.
Other Features: In addition to these the Gardens have several other elements that enhance the beauty of the place and give visitors an unforgettable experience. They are a marble Exedra, an analemmatic (shaped like the figure 8) sundial, a Japanese lantern, and a 30-panelled brass door that has scenes from the Book of Genesis.
The Bok Tower Gardens are botanical treasure, which is open year round to visitors. There is an admission fee.