In 1921, Edward W. Bok was spending the winter months in the residential Mountain Lake community that was adjacent to one of the highest hills on Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge, at 298 feet above sea level. He enjoyed taking evening walks to the top of “Iron Mountain,” among the virgin pines and sandhill scrub, to enjoy Florida’s dramatic sunsets and bird life. The idea came to him to preserve this hilltop and create a bird sanctuary — a place of beauty, serenity and peace.
Today, almost 100 years later, the lovely result of his dream, Bok Tower Gardens, is open to the public and is a national historic landmark.
Driving up the two-mile driveway to the Lake Wales property, it was difficult for me to believe I was still in Florida, except that the road is surrounded by citrus groves. It was reminiscent of being in the mountains, so it’s no wonder that Mr. Bok, who was a magazine publisher living most of the year in New York City, fell in love with the place’s incredible beauty.
The centerpiece of the property was his pride and joy, the Singing Tower. It stands 205 feet tall, is made of pink marble and coquina and was actually dedicated in 1929 by President Calvin Coolidge himself. The tower houses a 60-bell Carillon, which plays concerts daily at 1 and 3 p.m., and I believe that, besides the lovely lilt of my children laughing, it just may produce the sweetest sounds I’ve ever heard.
Mr. and Mrs. Bok didn’t skimp on their living quarters, however. Pinewood Estate, their 20-room, Mediterranean style home sits just down a bit from the tower and overlooks rolling hills below. I arrived a little late in the day to take a tour, but for a small additional charge, you can walk through the 1930s mansion.
Nature and conservation were Mr. Bok’s passions, so the grounds are full of various types of gardens, including Endangered Plants, Wetlands, a Wild Garden and even a fruit, vegetable and herb garden, which surrounds an outdoor kitchen that is used for culinary classes and outdoor events.
One of my favorite parts of Bok Tower Gardens was, as usual, the kids’ area, called the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden. It consists of 2.7 acres of space where young people can discover places to build, dig and create. Also, per usual, I spent way too much time here for someone my age, drawing pictures, climbing rocks and playing (at) the xylophone.
It’s really amazing how for someone incapable of growing a plant and with no talent for playing a musical instrument, I am always drawn to gardens and music. But one thing I do know how to do is to recognize beauty and this is a lovely, peaceful place not to be missed. Thank you for your contributions, Mr. Bok.