Bok Tower Gardens – Next Exit

Image of Bok Tower

 

by Heather Lindsay Sell, ShoutOUT®, March 10, 2018

BOK TOWER GARDENS. NEXT EXIT. As the sign sped by, a flash of childhood memories rushed my head. Nothing solid or succinct. Blurred images of me as a little curly-haired 4-year old, running in the green grass and around a shimmery pond. A glimpse of my grandmother and mom. A sky-piercing tower that dominated the gardens.

Sundial on the Singing Tower's southern wall.

Sundial on the Singing Tower’s southern wall.

I turned to my mom as we drew closer to exit 55 on I-4 and said, “That’s one place I’ve wanted to visit again. Bok Tower. I vaguely remember going with you and grandma when I was little, but I don’t remember much. It’s definitely on my list to go back.” Mom turned to me with a smile on her lips and sighed,“Me too”. Then, with excitement she squealed, “Let’s do it!”

Just in time for the Haines City/Clermont exit, we veered off and pointed the car towards Lake Wales, driving about 30 minutes along curvy roads and through orange tree groves, finally arriving at our destination.

I was first to unfurl myself from the driver’s seat just as a gust of wind carried an aromatic scent of blooming orange blossoms my way. Fresh. Bold. Intoxicating. I leaned back through my car door as mom was turning to get out and excitedly breathed, “You’ve gotta smell this”. As she exited and stood up, she inhaled deeply then sighed. “I’ve not smelled orange blossoms in bloom like this since I was a little girl, when they used to bottle the oils into small perfume tubes.” A soft reminiscent grin spread across her face.

SanctuaryBok Tower Gardens, originally called “Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower”, was the work of Edward Bok who fell in love with the tranquility and beauty of the area. In 1929, Bok presented the tower and gardens to the American people as “an enduring token of his appreciation for the opportunities he had been given” (boktowergardens.org). His love for wildlife, plants and fauna led him to create this 50-acre bird sanctuary.  The variety of plants and Reflection Pool were added to entice wildlife to the area, boasting over 126 bird species.

On February 1, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated Bok Tower Gardens as a National Historic Landmark.

image of Bok GardensThe day we visited, the gardens were lush and in-bloom, filled with flowers and fauna indigenous to Florida. Bees buzzing, butterflies flitting, and the bouquet of sweet orange blossoms wafting through the air.

The tower was just as behemoth as I remember, but more beautiful than my young memory could recall. 205-feet of granite, marble, shells, metalwork, and magnificent colors with intricate details jutting into the clouds. Pinks, blues, grays and various shades of purple danced along the structure in the glint of the sun’s rays. Between the massive herons protecting the parapet, to the zodiac sundial gracing the southern wall, the “Singing Tower” as it’s affectionately called, was astounding to see.

At 3pm, the tower’s 60 bells came to life at the hands of skilled carillonneurs, chiming with orchestrated rhythm and lasting about 30-45 minutes. We sat a spell on one of the many benches sprinkled through the gardens, drinking in the sights, smells and sounds.

image of mansion

Left: back entry to mansion. Middle: Orchid. Right: Angel fountain

After our brief hiatus, off to the 1930’s Mediterranean-style mansion we went. The Pinewood Estate mansion that’s nestled on the grounds was originally built for Bethlehem Steel vice president, Charles Buck, an amateur horticulturist and nature lover. The gardens were created first before the 30-room estate was built to ensure the home flowed naturally with the gardens. Though we didn’t purchase tickets to see inside, we were free to wander around the estate and gardens, peeking into the room windows here and there. Visitors can purchase a guided tour of the mansion either at the front gate or there at the estate.

Mansion GardensA visitor information center greets you to the right of the parking lot when you first enter. There’s also a café, gift shop, and plant shop. At the visitor center, you can learn more about the history of the gardens, view historic exhibits and glean more information on Edward Bok, his life and influences, and snag a map of the grounds.

A relaxing, serene place to go family and friends to be outdoors, stroll the garden paths, have a picnic, read, and just be.

More info:

Bok Tower Gardens is centrally located in between Tampa and Orlando (about 65 miles from Tampa and 67 miles from Orlando). It’s open 365 days a year from 8 am – 5pm. They also offer a monthly calendar of events https://boktowergardens.org/calendar/

General admission $14 for adults and $5 for children ages 5-12. It’s $6 more if you add the combo which includes the mansion tour.

Prices, hours, tickets, directions can be found here:  https://boktowergardens.org/events-and-info/hours-prices-directions/

Have you ever been to Bok Tower Gardens? I’d love to hear your stories. Comment below or shoot me an email: heather@shoutoutinc.com

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About ShoutOUT

In 2009, I started sharing my experiences, food, travels, and events, along with all of the incredible people and businesses I was meeting and discovering. What began as a fun hobby had such an overwhelming response, ShoutOUT was born! I continue to stretch the boundaries locally, regionally, and nationally, discovering, sharing and connecting as I go.
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