Bok Tower Gardens
Bushnell, FL - Events of Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Bok Tower is something Paul saw when he was a kid vacationing in Florida with his parents a long time ago, and it was a place he has been wanting to revisit for the past several years. Bok Tower was built in the 1920s by Edward Bok, editor of the Ladies' Home Journal. The reason it has taken us so long for us to decide to go there is Bok Tower is located pretty far from everything else we do in Florida. It is in Lake Wales, which is about 50 miles east of Tampa, about 40 miles south of Orlando and almost 80 miles from Bushnell.
We had clouds and a chance of rain on Monday, clouds and over a half an inch of rain on Tuesday, but the weather forecast said it was going to clear somewhat on Wednesday. The temperatures were supposed to drop from the mid 80s to around 70 on Wednesday over most of the area and fall even further over the following several days. However, the forecast for Lake Wales called for a high of near 80º for Wednesday, so we decided it was finally time to head to Bok Tower Gardens.
We arrived around 11:00 a.m. after a drive of over an hour and a half. We paid our admission at the booth at the entrance gate and headed up the road to the visitor center. Adult admission is $12 for the garden only and $18 for the garden plus Pinewood Estate. There is a AAA discount. Pinewood was built in the 1930s as a separate estate by Charles Austin Buck, a Bethlehem Steel vice president. We opted for a combo ticket for both the gardens and Pinewood Estate. We'll have more on Pinewood in our next post.
We could see the tower in the distance as we drove the road past the orange groves toward the visitor center.
Outside the visitor center there were colorful displays of flowers including some of the tallest snapdragons we have ever seen.
The courtyard of the visitor center had a tropical garden with a pond.
Colorful ceramic tiles like the ones lining the pond in the photo above decorate the visitor center. Other tiles depict birds and wildlife.
Inside the visitor center there are displays about Edward Bok's life and about the building of the gardens and tower. There is also a 9-minute video.
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.
At 298' above sea level, Iron Mountain is one of the highest points in central Florida. In Pittsburgh where we're from, Iron Mountain would hardly even be mentioned as a hill because it is only about 160' above the surrounding terrain. However, since most of Florida is so flat, 298' above sea level must seem like a mountain to most Floridians.
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. Short selections of recorded carillon music are played on the hour and the half hour, and there are 30-minute daily carillon concerts at 1:00 and 3:00.
The bells in the carillon range in size from 12 pounds to over 11 tons. There is a display in the visitor center with an outline of the largest bell so you can get an idea of the size.
The original carillon console is also on display. The keyboard consists of rows of levers which in turn operate other levers, rods and cables to ring the bells. Although there is only one bell on the display (upper right in the photo below), it gives visitors an idea of what it's like to play the carillon.
From the visitor center, we headed out to the garden. Right outside the door is a table with a display of flowers that are blooming that particular day.
One side of the visitor center courtyard was lined with epiphytes to create a screen effect along the walkway. Epiphytes are air plants that derive their nutrients and moisture from the air. They usually live on trees or other plants, but they are non-parasitic and usually don't harm the host plant. Lichens, some mosses (including Spanish moss) and some orchids are epiphytes. Bok Tower Gardens had individual epiphyte plants suspended from monofilament fishing line to make them look like they were floating in the air.
Before we even started up the path to the tower, there was a colorful bed of flowers. What look like three plants with large, bluish, spiky leaves up on the wall behind the flower bed aren't real - they are actually sculptures of either bromiliads or agave.
We both love to visit botanical gardens, and Paul especially likes tropical gardens with lush foliage in addition to colorful flowers. Look at the size of those leaves!
Azaleas are blooming in central Florida. Although some of the flowers had gotten damaged and knocked off by the rain the previous day, there were still some blooms left.
The camellias were also blooming. Camellias grow well in the south and usually bloom in winter and very early spring. The flowers look somewhat like roses, but camillias can easily be distinguished from roses by their shiny, evergreen foliage. Camillias are members of the tea family.
When visitors arrive at the top of the hill, they are greeted by a beautiful view of the tower and a reflecting pool.
The neo-Gothic/Art Deco-style tower is built from pink and gray Georgia marble and from Florida coquina, which is a stone made up of compressed seashell fragments. When we got around to the side of the tower facing the sun, we could see the beautiful colors of the stone better.
The tower is decorated with sculptures of birds and animals. The photo at the very beginning of the post shows herons along one of the balconies, and the photo below is a telephoto shot of one of the 8 large herons at the top of the tower.
Colorful ceramic tiles cover the grill openings on the top third of the tower where the carillon is located.
The brass door has panels that depict creation from the Book of Genesis. Edward Bok's grave can be seen surrounded by flowers in front of the door.
From the top of the hill you can see the orange groves and surrounding territory. It is easy to see why Bok loved Iron Mountain so much.
Along the path back down from the tower, we passed the endangered plant garden at the center of which was a human sundial. If you stand on a month, your head casts a shadow at the correct time (Eastern Standard Time). It was pretty close to 2:00 just like the shadow said.
We really enjoyed our visit to Bok Tower Gardens and all the beautiful foliage and flowers. A few of the flowers that were in bloom are shown in the next photo.
We continued on to Pinewood Estate. Although Pinewood was originally separate from Bok Tower Gardens, it is now owned by the same foundation that operates the gardens. We'll tell you about our visit to Pinewood and where we stopped to eat on our way back to the motor home in our next post.