Bok Tower Gardens
Wauchula, FL - Events of Monday, February 6, 2015
Bok Tower Gardens is a tower and garden located in nearby Lake Wales. It was built in the 1920s by Edward Bok, editor of the Ladies' Home Journal. Paul visited there when he was a kid on vacation in Florida with his parents in the 1950s. We also visited Bok Tower back in 2013.
We have been seeing azaleas blooming in people's yards here in central Florida as we travel about. Since the garden at Bok Tower has a good many azaleas, we were hoping a lot of them would also be in bloom when we made a repeat visit last Monday.
Admission to the garden is $12 for adults. Pinewood Estate is adjacent to Bok Tower, and combo tickets are available for $20. Pinewood is a 20-room, Mediterranean-Revival mansion built between 1930 and 1932 as a winter home by C. Austin Buck, who was vice-president of Bethlehem Steel. The foundation that operates Bok Tower Gardens purchased Pinewood in the 1960s. We visited Pinewood back in 2013, so we decided to skip it this time and just visit the garden to see what might be in bloom we didn't see last time. Click here to read about our 2013 visit to Pinewood Estate.
Edward Bok and his wife spent winters in the upscale community of Mountain Lake Estates near Lake Wales. Bok decided to purchase land adjacent to Mountain Lake Estates known as Iron Mountain where he enjoyed taking evening walks. He wanted to preserve Iron Mountain as a bird sanctuary.
Bok hired famous landscape architect Frederick Olmsted, Jr. in 1921 to design and build a 50-acre garden which would become his bird sanctuary on Iron Mountain. Bok also built a 205-foot tower on the highest point on the property. The tower was completed in 1929 only a year before Bok's death. He is buried in front of the door to the tower.
The tower is called the Singing Tower because of its 60-bell carillon. There are 30-minute daily carillon concerts at 1:00 and 3:00.
Outside the Visitor Center there are a number of attractive container plants. An interesting one was an ornamental pepper.
We started our tour in the Visitor Center where there are displays about Edward Bok's life and about the building of the gardens and tower. About 4 million pounds of Georgia marble were used in the construction of the tower. Another major component is coquina, which is a compressed limestone-seashell composite rock from Florida.
The tower itself is not open to the public, but there is a scale model in the Visitor Center that shows some of what is inside the tower. The top third of the tower is where the bells of the carillon are located. The roof over the bells is designed to deflect sound outward into the garden.
From the Visitor Center, we headed out into the garden. The area surrounding the Visitor Center has a good many flowers in bloom.
However, as we began walking up hill toward the tower, flowers became less frequent. Along the paths up the hill, the garden relies on leaf color and texture for interest.
Toward the top of the hill, the garden is more shady and somewhat jungle-like.
The tower itself is in a clearing at the top of the hill.
The moss-draped live oak trees that surround the tower are reflected in the colorful ceramic tiles on the grills that cover the openings at the top of the tower where the bells are located. Exotic birds fly among the branches of the trees, and there are monkeys at the bottom. Click on the photo below (or any photo) to enlarge it.
There are great views from the top of the hill on the south side of the tower. You can see orange groves stretching off into the distance.
The door on the north side of the tower is made from teak and is covered with brass panels that depict Biblical scenes of creation. Bok's grave is in front of the door.
As we headed back down the other side of the hill, we finally passed a few azaleas in bloom, but it was far from the spectacular peak bloom we were hoping to see.
For some reason, we just can't seem to get to any botanical garden at the right time to see azaleas in peak bloom. We have tried at Bok Tower and Rainbow Gardens in Florida, at Callaway Gardens in Georgia, and several times at Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama. The warmer weather in the south seems to spread out the bloom time of the azaleas making it less likely for a single, spectacular peak blooming period to occur. It also doesn't help the flowers are very delicate and are easily knocked down by rain or wind.
We stopped to see the Edible Garden located near the Visitor Center. The Edible Garden contains fruits, herbs, and vegetables.
Next to the Edible Garden is the Hammock Hollow Children's Garden. This 2.7-acre garden has places for kids to climb, dig, create, and discover. The entrance has a mosaic walkway made from pebbles.
There is also a pebble-covered snake that forms a sand box.
One of the walkways passes through a faux canyon lined with nozzles misting water that looks like smoke.
At the far end of the canyon is a giant spider web that kids can climb on.
By the time we finished our tour of the gardens we were hungry so we decided to try the Blue Palmetto Café located in the Visitor Center because it gets pretty good online reviews. They have soups, salads, sandwiches, and wraps for lunch as well as a few breakfast and snack items. Salads range in price from about $7 to $11, and sandwiches and wraps are about $6 to $10.
Margery had a turkey wrap with provolone cheese and cranberry mayo ($8.75), and Paul had a turkey and smoked Gouda sandwich ($8.95). Sides are extra. Unfortunately, they must have had a busy weekend because they were out of most of the sides, and the delivery truck hadn't yet arrived. Fortunately, the sandwiches themselves were both excellent.
After our delicious lunch, we headed back to the co-op. Since we weren't able to order any sides with our sandwiches, our tummies weren't quite full so we decided to stop at Maxwell's House of Fruit in Avon Park for dessert.
We heard about Maxwell's from a number of people at the co-op. Maxwell's is a citrus packing house with a little country store where you can buy fresh citrus fruit, jellies and souvenirs; but their real claim to fame is their orange soft-serve ice cream. They also have vanilla, but hardly anyone gets plain vanilla. Most people get either orange-vanilla twist, which is what Margery had, or plain orange, which is what Paul had. Both were fantastic! The orange-vanilla twist tastes like an orange creamsicle, and the straight orange tastes like frozen orange juice.
Now our tummies were full, so we headed back to the co-op to relax for the evening.