Bok Tower Gardens – Lake Wales, FL

Bok Tower Gardens is a botanical garden and bird sanctuary, located north of Lake Wales, Florida. It consists of a 250-acre garden, the 205-foot tall Singing Tower with its carillon bells, Pine Ridge Trail, Pinewood Estate, and a visitor center. The tower was built upon Iron Mountain, one of the highest points of peninsular Florida, estimated to be 295 feet above sea level. It is a National Historic Landmark that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Bok Tower Gardens is open daily and an admission fee is charged.

History

The gardens began in 1921 when a Dutch immigrant, Edward W. Bok, editor of the popular women’s magazine Ladies Home Journal and his wife, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, were spending the winter beside Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge and decided to create a bird sanctuary on its highest hill. Bok commissioned noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to transform what then was an arid sand hill into “a spot of beauty second to none in the country”.

The Gardens

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. designed the meandering gardens of Bok Tower Gardens to feature acres of ferns, palms, oaks, pines, and wetland plants. The plantings also include camellias, tree ferns, creeping fig, yaupon and dahoon holly, Asiatic jasmine, justicia, crinum and spider lily, monstera, wax myrtle, date and sabal palm, papyrus, philodendron, blue plumbago, and horsetail rush. The site is a refuge for more than a hundred bird species. Wild turkey and groups of sandhill cranes are also often seen wandering the grounds.

The Singing Tower

The Singing Tower is the centerpiece of the gardens. The tower was built at the highest elevation of the site, south of a reflection pool that allows the water to reflect its full image. A 60-bell carillon set within the 205-foot tall, Gothic Revival and Art Deco tower that was designed by architect Milton B. Medary. The tower is 51 feet square at its base, changing form at 150 feet high to an octagon with 37 feet sides that include sculptures designed by Lee Lawrie. The tower is surrounded by a 15-foot moat that serves as a Koi pond. It is built of pink Etowah marble and gray Creole marble, mined in Tate, Georgia, and Florida native coquina stone, from Daytona Beach, Florida.

Although the tower’s interior is not open to the public, it contains the Anton Brees Carillon Library, said to be the largest carillon library in the world. Inside the bell chamber is a playing room that houses a clavier that is used for playing the carillon bells. Recitals are given daily from the 60-bell carillon set.

Pine Ridge Trail

The Pine Ridge Nature Preserve and Trail is an ecosystem typified by an over-story of Longleaf Pine and a dense groundcover of perennial grasses that includes a nature trail that extends for three-quarters of a mile, a bog garden, an open glade, and a sandhill forest community.

Pinewood Estate

8 acres of the Gardens include the Pinewood Estate, which features a twenty-room Mediterranean Revival mansion. This mansion was built between 1930-1932 by C. Austin Buck, vice-president of Bethlehem Steel Co. in Pennsylvania, as a winter residence. Its original name was “El Retiro”, and it has been restored to its 1930s appearance. The sanctuary features several events at this mansion during the year. Guided tours of the 20 room Mediterranean-style mansion are given daily.

Events

Throughout the year, there are numerous events designed to draw visitors to the Gardens. These events include various concerts featuring jazz, orchestras, and the carillon bells of the Tower. The most popular are the semi-annual symphony concerts, given in the evening once in the Fall and once in the Spring. These events draw thousands of visitors to the large field in front of the Tower for an outdoor picnic; and feature music from both the symphony orchestra and carillon bells.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Bok Tower Gardens, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0