Bok Tower Gardens
Bok Tower Gardens is a historic landscape garden in an informal subtropical woodland setting and makes a great day out for the whole family.
Today it is a designated Historic National Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Bok Tower estate covers around 250 acres and consists of the Olmsted gardens which cover around 50 acres as well as the Hammock Hollow children’s garden, the Singing Tower on top of Iron Mountain, the Pinewood Estate mansion and two nature trails.
Depending upon the time of year of your visit you may be treated to the beautiful blossoms of azaleas, camellias, jasmine and magnolias.
Bok Tower Gardens is about three miles north of Lake Wales and about an hours drive south from our villa if you take the scenic route on County Road 17 (also known as the Scenic Highway).
Click the button to display a map showing the location of our villa on Eagle Pointe and Bok Tower Gardens. Other nearby attractions include Legoland Florida and Waterpark and the Circle B Bar Reserve. Close the map by clicking on the X in the top right.
Don’t forget the sunscreen especially if you intend to walk one of the nature trails. You might also want to bring towels if you have children and they intend to play in the children’s garden water features!
Open times: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily (last admission at 5:00 p.m.)
Admission: $15.00 for adults, $5:00 for children aged 5 to 12, free for children under 5
Address: 1151 Tower Blvd, Lake Wales, FL 33853
Tel: (863) 676 1408
The Olmstead Gardens
The original gardens are set amongst stands of moss covered live oaks, pines and palm trees.
The main paths are paved and suitable for wheelchairs and mobility scooters (ECVs). The secondary paths are mulched and as you would expect, there is an incline to reach the top of the hill where the tower is located.
Bok Tower Gardens does run a shuttle service every 15 to 20 minutes using large golf buggies but be aware they can be a bit bumpy especially if you sit at the back facing rearwards as we found to our cost!
In recent years there have been a series of new “mini” gardens and displays added to the original layout including:
- The River of Stone — pebble pathway outside the Visitor Center
- Pollinator Garden — flowers especially to attract pollinators like butterflies
- Endangered Plant Garden — showcase of around 30 rare Florida plant species
- Window by The Pond — a 170 foot boardwalk and a hide where you can watch for birds and butterflies gathering around the pond
- Wild Garden — a series of ecosystems including an upland pine savanna, oak hammock, wet prairie, wetland, bog, pine flatwoods highlighting native wild plants
- Exedra & Sunset Overlook — marble Exedra seating area with beautiful sunset views
- Oval — Oval lawn area, often used for outdoor exhibitions and other events. Close by is the start point for the shuttles
Two of the biggest new attractions are the Kitchen Garden & Outdoor Kitchen and the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden; see details of both below.
Kitchen Garden & Outdoor Kitchen
The Outdoor Kitchen opened in 2016 and offers event space for culinary classes and chef demonstrations with a range of outdoor appliances and a wood-fired pizza oven.
The Edible Garden surrounds the Outdoor Kitchen and features raised beds full of vegetables and herbs as well as a fruit orchard and grape vine arbors.
Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden
The Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden is a giant three acre play and hands-on educational garden area for children of all ages. As well as teaching conservation and the connection between humans and nature children can join in artistic performances at the Sabal Stage, play music at the Songbird Music Tree and draw and paint at the Doodle Bug Art Place.
The garden is divided up into eighteen zones starting with “The Gateway”, a kiddie sized arch (there is a bigger gateway for adults!).
The next zone is “Stone Mosaics” which highlights the relationship between the burrowing gopher tortoise and the other native species that rely on its burrows like the Red-Headed Woodpecker and Indigo Snake.
In “River Walk” children can play with jets of water, foggers and misters streaming from limestone cliffs once they find one of the hidden buttons to turn them on.
The whole garden is a magical place for children. Kids can climb on rocks and logs, over bridges and balance beams, crawl through large burrows, climb across a spiders web of ropes, jump across a series of tree stumps, dig in the sand and look for sharks teeth.
One of the highlights of Bok Tower Gardens in the 205 ft (62 m) Singing Tower containing a carillon housing 60 bells giving a range of 5 octaves.
The tower is faced in pink and grey marble and coquina stone in the Art Deco and Neo-Gothic style, surrounded by a moat containing koi carp and looks incredible framed by a reflection pool with giant waterlilies.
The Reflection Pool is the ideal spot for a great photo of the tower.
The tower is built on top of Iron Mountain. At a height of 298 feet, the “mountain” is one of the highest spots in Florida and offers wonderful panoramic views across the surrounding countryside and orange groves. A perfect spot for a picnic.
There are short clock music selections played every half hour starting at 8:30 a.m. and then 30 minute recitals of the bells every day at 1:00 p.m. and 3 p.m. From Thursday to Sunday there are live recitals by the world renowned carillonneur Geert D’hollander. On the other days of the week there are recorded recitals taken from the Anton Brees Carillon Library collection.
The bells were all cast in bronze in Loughborough, England by John Taylor Bell Foundry and range in size from just 16 lbs (7 kg) to an amazing 22,400 lbs (10,160 kg), nearly 12 tons. The bell foundry is the largest in the world and has been operating since the 14th century to this day.
There are some fascinating exhibits about the tower and its bells in the Visitor Center by the entrance to the gardens.
It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the Visitor Center to the tower.
Note that unfortunately the tower is not open to the general public.
The Pinewood Estate is a 20 room Mediterranean Revival-style mansion house. It was originally built in 1932 for Charles Austin Buck from Pennsylvania as a winter retreat and called “El Retiro” (The Retreat).
It has been restored to its original 1930s look and in 1970 it became part of the Bok Tower Gardens estate. It is open to the public for a guide tour.
During the Christmas holiday season, the house is decorated for Christmas with Christmas trees in every room. The last time we visited the docents (guides) were dressed in period costumes and the theme was Christmas Eve 1944 during World War II when the family were waiting for their son to come home for Christmas.
Look out for the amazing displays of poinsettia, bromeliads and amaryllis.
There is a small additional fee of $6 per person to enter the Pinewood Estate mansion but must be purchased as a combination Gardens and House ticket at the main entrance, you cannot buy a House ticket at the house itself.
The Pinewood Estate is about a 5 minute walk from the Visitor Center or you can take one of the complimentary shuttles.
Blue Palmetto Café
Next to the Visitor Center is the Blue Palmetto Cafe offering a wide assortment of lunch and snack selections like salads, soup, wraps and sandwiches as well as speciality desserts, ice creams, beers and wines.
The café offers both indoor and al fresco outdoor seating and is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
You are also welcome to bring in your own food and drink into the gardens. There are plenty of benches throughout the gardens or you can sit on the grass though you are encouraged to use a blanket. There are also two large picnic areas in the car park.
There is also a gift shop, The Shop at Bok, selling garden related gifts including books and plants.
Bok Tower Gardens Nature Trails
There are two walking nature trails at Bok Tower Gardens; the 1.5 mile Preserve Trail that runs from the main entrance to the Visitor Center and the 3/4 mile Pine Ridge Nature Trail that runs from the Window by the Pond inside the gardens to the Visitor Center.
The Preserve Trail has been “paved” with pebble rocks from the phosphate mines near Bartow, known as “Bone Valley”. Whilst walking the trail you might be lucky enough to spot a fossil including things like sharks teeth!
Efforts have been made to restore the natural habitat of Longleaf Pine forest and Turkey Oak. Bok Tower Gardens is a designated site on the Great Florida Birding Trail and over 125 species of birds have been recorded.
As well as nineteen species of endangered plants, also look out for rare reptiles and mammals like the endangered gopher tortoise and the Florida mouse.
The History of Bok Tower Gardens
Edward William Bok was an immigrant from Holland and he became the millionaire publisher of Ladies Home Journal. He and his wife spent their winters in the Mountain Lake Community and enjoyed the area around Iron Mountain so much that he purchased it to turn into a gardens and bird sanctuary.
He commissioned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to design and build the gardens. Olmsted had worked on a number of key projects throughout the United States including the National Mall, Jefferson Memorial and the White House grounds in Washington DC.
The gardens were originally called Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower and Edward Bok gifted it to the American people in 1929 as a token of his appreciation for the opportunities he had been given in America. He died the following year and is buried by the base of the Singing Tower.
Today, Bok Tower Gardens has become a very popular site for weddings especially in the Spring when so many of the flowers are in bloom.