26 Apr Bok Tower Gardens in Central Florida
Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Whales, FL, is about an hour drive and a welcome escape from the busyness of Orlando. Developed by Edward W. Bok in the 1920’s on top of Iron Mountain, one of the highest points in Florida, the historic landscape garden overlooks the sprawling vistas below. Following what his grandma told him, “Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it”, Bok set out to commission the gardens as a nature preserve. Bok Tower Gardens is a National Historic Landmark and was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929. The preserve is primarily made up of hiking trails, the gardens, the Pinewood Estate and the Singing Carillon Tower, as well as a gift shop and a small exhibit hall and museum detailing the gardens past.
The garden area is comprised of flora and fauna such as ferns, oaks, palms, and wetland plants, as well as a mix of seasonal flowers. The area is also a bird refuge for hundreds of bird species. It is 7.5 acres and there are trails throughout the park that lead to hidden vistas and lookout points. To get a glimpse into the bogs that are native throughout Florida, head to the cabin called “Window By The Pond” to look through the window and observe the wildlife up close. Here you will see many animals and a sign that states, “This is nature’s show, not ours. No scheduled performances.” When you make your way towards the tower, you will find expansive grass and shade which makes for a perfect spot to picnic and overlook the rolling green fields below.
The Pinewood Estate:
Located near the back of the 7.5 acre preserve is the Pinewood Estate, a Mediterranean style mansion, which was built for a man named Charles Austin Buck as his summer home. He lived there 6 weeks out of the year, and since then there have been only 2 other owners of the house, one of which had similar living arrangements as Buck and the other family lived in the house year round. When Buck built the house, all of his children were grown, but he still built a 20 room home. His children and friends would visit frequently, and because of this, the house was built with numerous guest bedrooms and bathrooms, with a half bath located near the front door. A half bath is common for present day homes, but back during the time the house was built, it was not common, and this was one of the many reasons the house was ahead of its time. The house is now restored to its original splendor for visitors to tour as part of the Bok Tower Garden experience.
The Singing Tower:
The Singing Tower is a 205 ft. carillon tower that was made to resemble the towers Bok remembered from his childhood in Amsterdam. Inside the tower, there are 8 levels, but tours are only available to those who are members of the garden. In the small museum that shows the history of the park, there is a display of the tower so you can at least get a glimpse of what it looks like inside. The 2nd level is a research center, the 6th level is an office, and the 7th level houses the carillon which is made up of 60 bells. A carillon is a musical instrument made from at least 23 bells, and the largest of the bells in this tower is 12 tons and the smallest is 16 lbs. The largest bell is big enough to fit a couple of me inside, as I found out from standing inside the display in the museum. In addition to a short song every half hour, there are two concerts held every day at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. If you go to number 10 located on your park map, you can see a live video of the carillon player in action with a view of the tower behind. We happened to catch the 3 p.m. show, and it was fun to hear–the music is pretty and echoes nicely throughout the entire garden.
There are two nature trails that run throughout the preserve in addition to the trails through the gardens. The Pine Ridge Nature Trail is 3/4 of a mile long and the new Preserve Trail is 1 1/2 miles long. The shorter trail takes you through the preserved Longleaf Pine Forest, which once covered a large portion of the southeastern United States but is now in danger of disappearing. The longer trail, the Preserve Trail, runs through the Longleaf Pine Forest and near a former orange grove. There are also numerous geocaches hidden throughout the park–we decided to walk along one of the trails to search for one, but didn’t realize quite how hidden it would be. While we were close to the geocache, we started looking in the tree area and heard something in the brush. Well, I thought I saw a snake, but I didn’t want to mention it because Micah is deathly afraid of snakes, so instead of sharing my possible sighting, I kept quiet. Besides, I didn’t know what it actually was for sure, so there’s no reason getting him worked up, right? Well my secret didn’t last too long, soon enough I heard Micah freak out because he thought he saw a huge black snake…in order to avoid a heart attack we decided to move on and forget about the geocache. I’m sure we would have been just fine, as it was probably an Eastern Indigo Snake which is a non-venomous snake which is common in the area, but neither of us really wanted to take the chance.
We enjoyed wandering through the preserve and it was a great escape from the city, especially when you want to a break from the theme parks. The Garden is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., and the Pinewood Estate is open slightly shorter hours which vary depending on the season.
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