The animals at Bok Tower Gardens are fearless. Squirrels chuckle and scold guests who stroll the park’s winding paths. Mockingbirds serenade from low branches. Gigantic weaver spiders tense in the center of low-strung webs, patiently awaiting prey. Even the resident swans swim right up, hoping to steal fish food pellets meant for giant carp thrashing in the pond. Somehow, the animals know they are protected here.
This exquisite garden was created by Edward W. Bok, a Dutch immigrant and humanitarian who came to the U.S. at the age of six. In 1889, Bok became the editor of the Ladies Home Journal, a position he would hold for the next 30 years. During visits to his Florida winter home in the 1920’s, Bok witnessed the beauty and dramatic sunsets of Iron Mountain, the highest point in peninsular Florida. Awed by the tranquility of the area, he purchased the land and commissioned renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. to create a stunning garden that would become a haven for native birds, plants and wildlife. Bok worked closely with Olmstead through the design process and after giving his final stamp of approval, left to tour Europe. Seeing the carillon towers in his native Netherlands, he was inspired to build a carillon atop Iron Mountain within the sanctuary already being constructed.
Bok returned home and ordered his architect and stone sculptor to construct a 205-foot neo-Gothic and art deco tower of pink Georgia marble and Florida limestone. Upon completion in 1929, sixty specially cast bronze bells weighing more than 5,500 tons were hoisted into place inside the top of the tower. Today, in addition to a lush landscape of giant ferns and riotous blooming plants, Bok Tower Gardens offers two live 30-minute carillon concerts every day of the week, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The music reverberates throughout the park, but the best place to listen to the concert is from one of the park benches scattered around the base of the tower.
Bok Tower Gardens is located approximately 50 miles south of Orlando in central Florida, in the small community of Lake Wales. The gardens are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is $10.
Photo credit: Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels