Atop one of the highest hills in the Florida Peninsula, Bok Tower Gardens is one of Florida’s most spectacular landscaped gardens, “something to appeal to both man and animal, a meditative place,” as envisioned by Edward William Bok, a Dutch immigrant who became the longtime editor of the Ladies Home Journal and wanted to give back a bit of beauty to the world.
Location: Lake Wales
Fees: $15 adult, $5 ages 5-12 for gardens and preserve; $21 adult, $10 ages 5-12 for gardens, preserve, and Pinewood Estate.
Open: 8-6 daily
Residing at Mountain Lake Colony, which adjoins the current gardens, Bok became familiar with both the top of Iron Mountain and the work of renowned landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead. Bringing them together, Bok commissioned Olmstead – who was inspired by Highlands Hammock near Sebring – to create “a spot of beauty second to none in the country.”
Atop the highest point in the Florida peninsula, the gardens emerged under a careful master plan. Groups of plantings – including spectacular old George Tabor azaleas from Glen St. Mary – guide visitors up the hill to the breathtaking view, and to portals along the mirror pool that reflects the carillon tower. It’s a masterful and functional piece of landscape art, sculpted of 4 million tons of Georgia marble, faced with ceramics from Enfield Pottery, and containing 60 bells weighing 61.5 tons.
But the gardens are more than just a place of pilgrimage and restoration. In 1986, then-Director of Horticulture David Price established the Endangered Plant Program as a part of the National Collection of Endangered Plants, utilizing the sanctuary’s unique venue as part of the biologically-rich Lake Wales Ridge to conserve, propagate, and re-establish in the wild rare and threatened species such as Lakela’s Mint (Dicerandra immaculate) and Four-petal Pawpaw (Asimina tetramera), which can be seen in the Endangered Plant Garden.
The adjacent Pine Ridge Nature Preserve, also part of the sanctuary, has several listed species, including wide-leaf pinelandcress (Warea amplexifolia) and Lewton’s polygala (Polygala lewtonii).
Also on the property are the formal gardens of Pinewood, an estate designed by a member of Olmstead’s staff, William Lyman Phillips and notable as the most complete Mediterranean Revival home in the United States. The gardens extend the usable space of the house, with grottos and outdoor rooms as well as a sweeping lawn with Grecian urns.
As you leave, stop in the Tower & Garden Gift Shop to pick up seedlings, mature plants, and books on Florida’s flora.