Bok Tower Gardens was Edward Bok’s gift to the American people. The property encompasses Iron Mountain, one of the highest points in Florida. The carillon tower was built atop the 295-foot high hill. Within the tower is one of the world’s finest carillons, a bell-based instrument and the heaviest of all musical instruments. The site also houses the world’s largest carillon library, with books, articles, recordings, music scores, slides, and photographs only on carillons.
The 205-foot neo-Gothic and Art Deco Singing Tower, was designed by architect Milton B. Medary, with stone sculpture by Lee Lawrie, the creator of Atlas at Rockefeller Center.
A brass door, which depicts the Book of Genesis, and wrought iron gates were created by metalworker Samuel Yellin, whose works also grace both the Washington National Cathedral, Washington D. C. and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, NY. The upper third of the tower is covered in tiles created by H. Dulles Allen.
The gardens were designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the designers of New York City’s Central Park and the architect for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.
The Bok gardens 60-bell carillon is played every day at 1 and 3 p.m. (There is a recording of the carillon here.
Bok Tower Gardens was the dreamchild of Dutch-American publisher and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward W. Bok. His desire was to create an outdoor sanctuary that would “touch the soul with its beauty and quiet” as a gift of appreciation to the nation that had afforded him so many opportunities. To design the sprawling gardens, Bok enlisted the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., whose designs also grace the Biltmore Estate, the National Mall in Washington, DC, and various National Parks across the nation. Later, Bok commissioned a 205-foot gothic revival and art deco “Singing Tower” of marble and native coquina designed by architect Milton B. Medary to become the centerpiece of the gardens. The tower would house a 60-bell carillon set whose discordant tones would echo throughout the property. Dedicated in 1929 by President Calvin Coolidge, the site is now a National Historic Landmark and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
You should begin your visit to Bok Tower Gardens at the Visitor Center where you may view a brief orientation video, collect a garden map, and peruse the historical museum. The Visitor Center complex also houses the Blue Palmetto Café and the Tower & Garden Gift Shop. When you do your tour of the property, in addition to the Singing Tower, Olmsted Gardens and Pinewood Estate, be sure not to miss the Endangered Plant Garden, Sunset Overlook, and a personal favorite the Window By the Pond.
So when is the best time to visit Bok Tower Gardens? In a news release from a previous year, Director of Horticulture Nick Baker said, “We expect azaleas to peak the third week in February and continue through March.” Although the gardens are beautiful any time of year, the landscape is especially lovely in the early spring.
Bok Tower Gardens 1151 Tower Boulevard, Lake Wales, FL, 33853 (863) 676-1408