Archive For February 26, 2017
Bok Tower and Gardens ~ National Register of Historic Places
Bok Tower Gardens is a 50-acre garden located in Lake Wales, Florida. It’s perfectly positioned on Iron Mountain within the Lake Wales Ridge, one of the highest elevations in peninsular Florida. Rising 295 feet above sea level, for me it’s the most peaceful place in all of Central Florida. As a Florida resident looking to take a break from the craziness of Orlando’s theme parks and myriad of other touristy places, Bok Tower Gardens provides a place of solitude, and seemingly shelters me from the over-crowded venues synonymous with the Sunshine State. Even when the parking lot is full, I feel like I’m all alone; just me nestled amongst nature’s finest.
Bok Tower Gardens has been inspiring locals and visitors for the past 88 years! It was established almost 9 decades ago by Edward W. Bok as a gift to the American people. Mr. Bok spared no expense in creating this garden oasis, hiring famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. as the designer. After 5+ years in construction, Bok Gardens was dedicated on February 1, 1929, by President Calvin Coolidge. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993. The history of Bok Tower Gardens is truly fascinating!
Edward W. Bok was the editor of the women’s magazine Ladies Home Journal!
Bok Tower Gardens ~ 7 Distinct Areas
Bok Tower Gardens consists of 7 distinct focal points:
- Olmsted Landscape Gardens
- Wild Garden
- Singing Tower
- Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden
- Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen
- Pine Ridge Nature Preserve
- Pinewood Estate & Gardens
Each one is unique and provides for leisurely strolls, enlightening moments, or engaging activities. There are a multitude of meandering paths and strategically placed benches perfect for reading, journaling, reflecting, meditation, or praying. The informal woodland setting is also a haven for bird-watchers, butterfly fanatics, nature lovers, and photographers. Keep your camera handy — in addition to songbirds, wildlife may include turkeys, raptors, lizards, or the rare gopher tortoise listed as “threatened” and thereby protected under Florida State law.
If you plan on thoroughly investigating all 7 areas in one day, it’s a good idea to arrive when they open at 8 a.m. Pack a picnic lunch or stop by the Blue Palmetto Cafe, their on-site spot for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. (You have got to try the Beer-batterd French Fries! They were even better than my beloved Sweet Potato Fries.) Here’s a peek at the Blue Palmetto Cafe menu and prices.
Begin your visit at the Visitor’s Center & Museum with a brief orientation film. Here, you can also learn about the history of the Gardens and view changing art exhibits. Be sure to pick up a brochure with photos of some of the plants that will be blooming during your visit; these change on a monthly basis. Additionally, there is a table right outside the Visitor’s Center with a sampling of what’s currently in bloom. Take a look, and then see how many you can locate! Save some time to explore the Tower & Garden Gift Shop with unique treasures (and a live plant shop for your own garden) to commemorate your visit.
Bok Tower Gardens is open 365 days a year, from 8 – 6. Visit their website at boktowergardens.org for visitor guidelines and frequently asked questions.
Bok Tower Gardens ~ Colorful Creations 365 Days a Year!
Regardless of which month you visit Bok Tower Gardens you’ll find a variety of flowers and plants in bloom. That’s the beauty of having a botanical garden right in the middle of the Sunshine State! During every season (and yes, Florida has them!) color abounds. For example, when I went in December there was Plumbago, Tropical Gardenia, Chinese Hat, Popcorn Senna, Beautyberry, Brazilian Red Cloak, and Camellias, just to name a few. The citrus trees were at the height of their growing season, and poinsettias were everywhere. And the mansion at Pinewood Estate was decked out in all its holiday splendor. Christmastime is truly one of my favorite times at Bok Tower Gardens.
Bok Gardens in February
My most recent visit was a few days ago in February. I didn’t expect to see much midway through winter, but Mother Nature proved me wrong. The Gardens were remarkable! Sensational Snapdragons were blooming in a variety of bright colors and ranged in height from dwarf to medium to tall. Their showy slender stalks appeared throughout the Gardens, from potted containers at the entrance to Pinewood Estate, and places in-between.
And speaking of “showy,” the Camellias were the crème de la crème! They were found in various sections and provided breathtaking eye-candy for anyone with a passion for botanical beauty. The red, white, and pink flowers (oftentimes mistaken for a rose) were in full bloom during my February visit. Bird of Paradise, one of my all-time favorite tropical flowers, were also blooming. The Azaleas… oh my goodness, those Azaleas! Even though they’re quite common compared to a lot of the offerings here, were extraordinarily beautiful. It seemed like there were acres of them, in so many varieties — such as Amelia Rose, Gloria, Mardi Gras, Southern Charm, Kissimmee, Edward Bok, and Eugenie.
Pinewood Estate ~ Mediterranean Revival Architecture
A trip to Bok Tower Gardens is not complete without a leisurely stroll around the grounds of Pinewood Estate. The enchanting 20-room mansion is Mediterranean Revival Architecture, and just under 13,000 square feet. This area is comprised of nearly 8 acres and was built in the early 1930s for Charles Austin Buck, the vice president of Bethlehem Steel. “El Retiro” was the original name, which means “retreat” in Spanish. I purchased a book with the history of Pinewood Estate and Bok Tower Gardens in the gift shop, which I highly recommend. It was fascinating!
General Admission to the Gardens is $14, and a combo ticket that includes the Pinewood Estate tour is $20. It’s well worth the $6 up-charge which includes the home’s history, and docents are available throughout the mansion to answer questions about the Estate and its furnishings. Even if you don’t purchase the interior tour of the mansion, do yourself a favor and peruse the immaculate grounds. You’ll be able to see the formal Mediterranean-style garden, the Spanish frog fountain, an enchanting stone grotto at the front of the house, an Oriental moon gate fountain, and an English-style country garden with a rolling lawn and reflective pond.
The Singing Tower at Bok Gardens
Towering 205 feet above the Gardens is the neo-Gothic Singing Tower. It houses one of the world’s finest carillons with 60 bells. The Art Deco style is made up of stone native to the Southeast, ironwork, tile mosaics, and the infamous sun dial and brass door. Unfortunately, few people will get to tour the inside of the Singing Tower and see what’s behind the brass door. To receive a private tour invitation you must hold a Sustainer Level Membership or above. Even so, the outside of the Tower is worth seeing; it was awarded the grand prize for design in 1930 by the American Institute of Architects. Carillon concerts occur at 1 & 3 p.m. daily. They can usually be heard almost anywhere on the grounds of the Gardens.
The carillon musical instrument was designed and built in England, in 1928. There are only 4 in Florida and 600 worldwide. Bok Tower Gardens will be hosting the 23rd International Carillon Festival March 4-12. Daily concerts and special events will be performed by world-renowned carillonneurs. This world-famous music festival only happens twice every 5 years!
Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden ~ New at Bok Tower Gardens
One of the new additions to Bok Tower Gardens is the children’s play area called Hammock Hollow. What a fantastic idea! Young children are generally not as interested or impressed by botanical gardens as adults are, therefore, this add-on was a win-win for everyone in the family. Mom and Dad no longer have to fight with the little ones to go to the Gardens. In fact, with an activities area like this one, the only battle will be getting the kids to leave.
At 2.7 acres it’s much larger than I envisioned. The children can enter through the pint-sized keystone gate, where the adventure begins. There are rocks to climb (careful… you may get wet!), a gigantic spiderweb to maneuver, logs to climb, a painting area for the next Van Gogh to be discovered, sand play area complete with sand pails and water, a stick stack for building forts and other structures, a chickee hut with an outdoor kitchen, frog hop for jumpers, acoustic musical instruments, bird feeding stations, and lots more. There’s a decent amount of shady areas to escape the hot Florida sun with places to rest and cool down; rope hammocks, secret nap benches, fountains, spray jets, misters, and foggers. You can read Florida Fun And Fork’s complete review of Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden here.
***Note: This is not a babysitting service. The children must be supervised at all times.
Edible Garden and Outdoor Kitchen ~ New to Bok Tower Gardens
Another upgrade to Bok Tower Gardens is the addition of an Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen. Developed by the University of Florida and other growers, it features fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Of course, the varieties planted are those well suited for Central Florida weather. This area hosts special events and culinary classes such as Grilling with a Twist, Sippin’ & Suppin’ Under the Stars with Celebrity Chefs, Kids in the Kitchen, Fermentation Festival, Craft Beer & Cuisine, and Brining & Pickling.
A Slice of Old Florida
Bok Tower Gardens gives me a sense of Old Florida — the way our great state used to be before scores of people discovered our little secret. It’s off-the-beaten-path, yet so easy to access from almost anywhere within Central Florida. I highly recommend this peaceful piece of paradise. And even though there’s been a noticeable increase in attendance since the new spaces have premiered, you won’t have tons of tourists stepping on your toes. The serenity is addictive.
Bok Tower Gardens Membership and Reciprocal Program
If you’re in a geographical area that will allow you to return again and again, consider purchasing a Membership. With 11 different Membership Levels, there’s one that fits most budgets. Hubby and I purchased the “Duo” right before the price increase (we paid $55). But even at $70 for 2 people it’s a bargain. Not only do you get unlimited visits to Bok Tower Gardens and discounts at the Blue Palmetto Cafe and Tower Garden Gift Shop, it also includes a reciprocal admission program that allows free or greatly reduced entry prices for other select botanical gardens and museums in Florida and throughout the country.
For example, Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando offers free admission simply by showing your Bok Tower Gardens Membership Card (and photo ID). Here’s my Leu Gardens Review and Photo Tour from a recent visit. This is another gorgeous botanical garden and museum that is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Additionally, The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden in Winter Park has free reciprocal admission. The sculptures in this outdoor sculpture garden are amazing! To me, if a facility is on the National Register, it’s usually worth seeing. In total, there are 47 botanical gardens and/or museums in the state of Florida alone that participate in this program.
You can check out the Membership Application for Bok Gardens on their website.
Bok Tower Gardens Map and Directions
ADDITIONAL READING FOR BOTANICAL ENTHUSIASTS
What do you get when you combine a passion for botanical beauty with America’s wealthiest families? You get 5 Florida Gardens with Rich Roots! It’s a fascinating article revealing the connection between the richest people in America and their winter homes here in Florida!
SPECIAL EVENT: EASTER SUNRISE SERVICE
WHERE: Bok Tower Gardens, 1151 Tower Blvd, Lake Wales, FL 33853
WHEN: April 1, 2018, 7:00 am — Gate opens at 6:00 a.m
COST: Complimentary Admission until 8:00 a.m
In addition to an inspiring Easter message, enjoy a carillon performance by Geert D’hollander
For an additional fee a buffet breakfast will be served in the Blue Palmetto Café following the service
Have you been to Bok Tower Gardens? Please share your experience or any questions about this National Historic Landmark in the Comment box below!
Epcot Festival of the Arts Premier
Epcot has a brand new festival. It’s called the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. The inaugural event runs from January 13 – February 20, Fridays through Mondays only. This first-ever celebration is the result of mixing visual, culinary, and performing arts inspired by cultures from all over the world. Anytime you introduce something new, there’s always room for improvement. Disney knows that better than any other company out there. It’s a given that future Festival of the Arts will be bigger and better than this initial one, but honestly, they set the bar pretty high — higher than my expectations.
Initially, I thought they probably just came up with a concept to fill in the low-attendance time period between the holidays and the beginning of the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival (see photos of the 2016 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival here). I was convinced it was simply Disney flexing their master-marketing muscles; a month-long money-making scheme in the middle of the off-season. I was wrong!
Color and Creativity Everywhere!
For a moment, upon entering the theme park, I thought I was at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. On display at the main entrance was a sea of sensational color — gorgeous fuchsia and purple blooms. It looked like someone had taken gallons of brightly colored paint and splattered them everywhere; eye catching, to say the least. This spectacular burst of color set the stage for what was to come at the Festival of the Arts; I’m sure it was strategic.
Epcot Living Statues
After leaving the impressive picturesque area just inside the front gate (probably the best “selfie” spot in the entire park), I couldn’t wait to encounter the next “wow” moment at the Festival of the Arts. I didn’t have to wait long. There was live entertainment at the Fountain View Stage and Plaza in Future World. Well, maybe “live” isn’t the best word to describe it. There were three different life-size cast figures expertly sculpted; one in silver, the next in gold, and the third in a bronze material. A large crowd had gathered around the human representations, so of course I had to investigate the reason for their popularity. Turns out the statuaries were alive and breathing. Well, I never seen them blink or utter a word, but I know real blood was running through their veins because I did see them move at times.
Long lines had formed by families who watched in awe as the statues came to life. Sporadically they would interact with guests posing for photos. Every now and then the calculated moves were downright hilarious. The living statues brought back fond memories of the ones that used to be stationed around the France Pavilion many years ago. The death of Epcot’s living statues was a sad day for me, so imagine my joy to witness their resurrection at the Festival of the Arts.
NOTE… The entertainment in this area changes throughout the day. I got to see the remarkable living statues, but you may see a vocal ensemble singing American pop tunes, a festive marching band, a splendid jazz quartet, or a lively choral performance by some of Central Florida’s finest high schools and universities.
Galleries Throughout the Park
As I walked away from the living statues, I couldn’t help but think, “How in the world do they do that?” Some of these street artists pose as statues for hours at a time. Incredible concentration and focus!
Well, I had only been inside the Festival of the Arts for less than half an hour, but I was already loving it. The immense amount of creative gifts and talents in the world never ceases to amaze me. My next stop was one of the Art Galleries spread throughout the park at the Odyssey Festival Showplace in Future World East. On display here was the work of Mary Blair, Herb Ryman, and some Disney Original Art. I’m under strict orders from hubby not to bring home any more artwork, so my willpower was getting quite a workout browsing the masterpieces on display. There was a variety of artistic styles, which made my window shopping even more enjoyable.
Food Studios at the International Festival of the Arts
Regardless of which Epcot festival you attend, it just wouldn’t be as memorable without the creative food offerings that are custom-made for each event; food items that aren’t available any other time of year. We were first introduced to food kitchens at Disney’s Food and Wine Festival, then food kiosks at International Flower and Garden Festival were added, and here they are again at the Festival of the Arts. Only this time, the food was waaaay more gourmet-ish! Each small plate was an edible work of art almost too beautiful to destroy, rivaling the presentation and flavors found in any 5-star restaurant. The prices ranged from $6 – $14, a bit hefty for just a few bites, but no regrets here. In all fairness, each one was quite labor intensive to put together. Watching the chefs work their mouth-watering magic made the delectable morsels even more wonderful. Hubby and I tried eight different gourmet treats; each was flat-out fantastic!
Meet the Artists!
Each weekend of the Epcot Festival of the Arts features different artists. A highlight of our visit was meeting the various creators. Every one of them shared unique facts and tidbits about their creative art skills. To me, the stories behind the art can be as incredible as the art itself! For example, we met Jeff Laibson who specializes in the art of music. Each musically inspired piece is full of rhythm, and emotionally evocative. You see, this artist is also a renowned composer; a musician who has performed all over the world with some very famous people. He later became a professor of music at the University of Miami. His artwork was absolutely amazing, and the conversation as warm as an old friendship.
Then there was Rodel Gonzalez. He’s got artistic DNA from his father and grandfather, who were artists. His artistry, like Jeff Laibson, also became evident in the field of music. At the age of 20 he founded “Side A” in the Philippines. He was the lead singer and the band’s most prolific songwriter. The band is still active today and is currently the longest-lived band in Manila.
When you attend the Festival of the Arts, don’t just scurry by the displays that are not your “style” — take a moment to engage the artist. I guarantee you will learn something!
What happens when you mix visual, culinary, and performing arts inspired by cultures from all around the world? You get a global masterpiece! You get the Epcot International Festival of the Arts! I believe the inaugural event was a success, at least in my book. I’m sure Disney has just laid the foundation of something awesome that will be built upon for many years to come. Kudos to “the Mouse” for producing a top-notch artistic production to fill the void between holiday happiness and those first blooms of spring at Epcot!
UPCOMING EPCOT FESTIVALS…
2018 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival Dates: February 28 – May 28
Have you been to the inaugural Epcot International Festival of the Arts? Please share your experience with our readers. Or, perhaps you have a question about this premier event. Reply in the comment box below — I’ll try my best to answer it!