Landscape and Nature Photographer
We took a day trip to Bok Tower Gardens. This hidden gem is well worth the drive to Lake Wales, FL to see. The gardens were established in 1929 as a gift to the American people by Edward W. Bok. They were dedicated on February 1, 1929 by then President Calvin Coolidge. The gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to be a 50 acre contemplative and informal woodland garden. The design consists of “rooms” where benches are placed as you would expect to find in living spaces in a home. Over 1,000 live oaks as well as 10,000 azalea and camellias were planted when the garden was first developed. Over time more colorful, Florida friendly and native flora has been added bringing more color throughout the year to the garden. Amazingly, there is never a time when things are not in bloom. The peak is obviously in the spring, but even in the winter the garden is breath taking. The tower was added after Olmsted designed the garden. Mr. Bok and his wife had traveled to Belgium where they saw and heard a carillon. They decided that the garden should have a carillon so it was designed by Milton B. Medary and added to the garden to the dismay of Mr. Olmsted.
The tower is 205 feet tall and is constructed using georgia marble, coquina and large sections at the top consisting of porcelain mosaics. The mosaics depict scenes of Florida and religious themes. There are 60 tuned bells which are played by a carillonneur. The carillon (the instrument) looks similar to an over sized organ and is played with the sides of the hands and fists. There is a viewing area where you can watch, via live video feed as the carillon is being played. The music is best listened to at a distance from the tower. It can be very clearly heard throughout the property as it plays. It adds a very relaxing and tranquil feel to the gardens.
The gardens are very meticulously maintained by 14 staff horticulturists and volunteers. It is mind boggling to imagine the effort it must take to maintain the garden and grounds in the pristine condition they are kept in. There is also an area dedicated to nearly extinct and “prehistoric” plants that grew only in this area of Florida.