Bok Tower Gardens
Bok Tower Gardens
Lake Wales, Florida
There are not a lot of hills in Florida, so any elevated land is remarkable in itself, offering sweeping views of the lower elevation and the stunning skies the state is known for. The founder of Bok Tower Gardens saw the potential in a unique property atop Iron Mountain, purchasing it and transforming it into a sanctuary filled with native plants and trees that he hoped would attract migrating birds and other wildlife. He also attracted the help of world-famous landscape designers and architects, and even a U.S. President who dedicated the gardens when Bok offered them up as a gift to the American people. There is a certain reverence interwoven into these gardens, both to the Floridian landscape and the visionary ideas of creative people.
There is no getting around the centerpiece of the gardens that has also become its namesake, Bok Tower itself. Within the impressively-designed visitor center we were told to hurry to catch the next performance of the giant “singing tower.” Some stubborn part of me didn’t want to cave into adoring a tourist attraction, but from the first glimpses through the taller trees I felt the pull of the giant monument. Rising from its own reflection in the moat-like greenish pool surrounding it, the 205-foot tower of pink marble and coquina emblazoned with carved cutouts of birds and other wildlife majestically soars towards the colorful southern skies. The tower is imposing while also maintaining a delicate beauty in its subtle coloring and elaborate carvings. A grove of live oak trees heavily draped with spanish moss surrounds the ornate monolith and adds a feeling of slow timelessness to the scene. The sense of serenity is occasionally broken by the mad clamour of bells from within the tower walls, equal parts charming and eerie.
Numerous paths wind around the property towards and away from the tower through wooded areas, landscaped lawns, and specialty gardens, but there is a rusticness to the place that blends into in the surrounding Florida landscape. Designed by famed landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the foundation of the garden was created using native ferns, palms, and shrubs from the lowlands around the property and more exotic varieties were eventually integrated into the overall scheme. Two large ponds situated well apart from each other make bold statements, one surrounded by native marshland and dense plantings of saw palmetto trees, and the other ringed by taller palms and live oaks and the dark waters accented with oversized waterlilies. Since the dedication of the original gardens, the property has continued to grow, gradually absorbing into its domain more protected land and even the adjacent, historic Pinewood Estate.
Pinewood is a Mediterranean-style home and gardens that was also designed by a member of the Olmsted firm, which explains how perfectly it seems to exist within the overall property. The house is large but modest and seems to let the surrounding manicured landscape take the focus. One side of the house contains a fruit orchard, clipped boxwood hedges, a grotto feature, large decorative ceramic pots, and ornate tile work throughout. The other side of the house looks out over a vast lawn with plantings of tropical flowers along the edges and closer to the estate. There is also a walled formal garden off the dining room porch with a rectangular lawn bordered with orange marigolds and other colorful blooms leading up to the ornate Moon Gate Fountain.
The overall effect of the gardens is influenced by what motivated its construction to begin with: joy in and love for this specific area and its diverse plant and wildlife.
Final Rating: Bok Tower Gardens really delivers as a most unlikely garden paradise appearing like a mirage from the endless flat Florida farmland that surrounds it. Every element seems well-planned out and executed with the engaging garden features in and around the visitor center. I particularly loved the “What’s Blooming” display, a collection in vases and bowls of flowers in bloom during the current season. The employment of such notable architects and designers as well as the evident enthusiasm for nature of the garden’s founder really comes through in the experience of exploring the varied delights of this special garden. FOUR BLOOM RATING