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.
***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 16, 2017, 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