We were in Florida in April and I made a 2hour plus drive to the beautiful Bok Tower Garden in Lake Wales and met fellow photographer Nancy Hovey and her partner there for a visit.
I think of it as a Zen garden – it has sweeping, simple designs that lead to water features and Japanese-style statues. This makes sense as it is nearly 50 acres of Olmsted-designed gardens. They surround Pinewood Estate, a 1930s Mediterranean-style mansion, and the 205-foot art deco and neo-Gothic Singing Tower housing one of the world’s finest carillons with 60 bells that ring every half hour and during daily concerts. The National Historic Landmark was dedicated in 1929 as a gift from Dutch immigrant Edward Bok, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and world peace advocate, and editor of Ladies Home Journal. He and his wife, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, who would found the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1924, were spending the winter beside Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge and decided to create a bird sanctuary on its highest hill (298 feet above sea level, 91 meters). Bok commissioned noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to transform what then was an arid sand hill into “a spot of beauty second to none in the country”. The first year was spent digging trenches and laying pipes for irrigation, after which soil was brought to the site by thousands of truck loads and plantings began. The Olmsted plan included the planting of 1,000 large live oaks, 10,000 azaleas, 100 sabal palms, 300 magnolias, and 500 gordonias, as well as hundreds of fruit shrubs including blueberry and holly.
What I remember from February visits were the remarkable azaleas and camellias…here’s the tower.