What do you get your Mom & Sisters for Christmas when they have most everything they already want? Well, time...time spent with you. As we rush through the Holiday Season, time is often the most valuable thing we have and last year I decided that for now on my Christmas gift to them would be time together. So this year, I decided to check out Bok Tower and Gardens. The journey to Bok Tower from my home town in Orlando is about 1 hour and 45 minutes. It was a perfect Florida day, the sun was shining and the sky was its normal gorgeous shade of blue.
As you meander through the gardens you are awed by the sheer beauty of the landscape, the hundreds of butterflies and birds that call Bok Gardens home. I could have literally spent the day just photographing all of the birds, butterflies, flowers, trees, walkways, plants and obviously the gorgeous bell tower sitting majestically just beyond the Reflection Pool. You begin to wonder...how did this come to be?
Edward W. Bok use to visit the Lake Wales area during the winter months. He enjoyed visiting what use to be called "Iron Mountain" a near by hill that sat 298 feet above sea level and offered Bok the chance to see sweeping vistas of the nearby land, gorgeous sunsets and inspiring views of nature. It was during these visits that he decided to build a bird sanctuary and a place that would "touch the soul with its beauty and quiet". He commissioned the help of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and together they designed "a spot of beauty second to none in the country". In 1929 he presented this land as a gift to the American people as a token of appreciated, because he loved this land and wanted to share it with everyone.
The sheer size of the Singing Tower alone is enough to make your jaw drop. As you approach the 205 foot carillon it is a work of art in itself. The tower is a unique combination of Neo-Gothic and Art Deco architecture and features images of birds, trees, and wildlife commonly found in the landscape around the garden. The tower itself was constructed of steel and wrapped in coquina stone from St. Augustine and pink and grey marble found in Georgia. Each side of the tower features something different, the most unique feature is The Great Brass Door. If you look closely you will see images from the Book of Genesis, and just outside of this door is the final resting place for Mr. Bok who died only a year after dedicating this land to the people in 1930.
Nested on the far end of the Bok Tower Gardens you will find an enchanting Mediterranean-style mansion. The charming mansion looks like it's straight out of a story book. Welcome to the Pinewood Estate and Gardens once known as "El Retiro", which means retreat in Spanish. This meticulously restored mansion built in the early 1930's was once home to Charles Austin Buck. This 20-room estate is in full holiday cheer during the season, so much so, that it takes volunteers almost a month to set up this grand display. Pinewood Estate docents are also dressed in holiday cheer and greet you right at the estate gates upon arrival. Once you are inside, you are given a beautiful brochure that tells you the story of the family getting ready to receive guests for the holiday season, and as you go room by room, the story continues. Once the holiday season is over the Pinewood Estate is open to the public for the historical tour.
It's Christmas 1936, Mr. Buck has invited his children and grandchildren to the Estate for Christmas. Along with them, Mr. Buck has also invited the estate's landscape architect William Lyman Phillips and the landscape architect for Bok Tower Gardens, Frederick law Olmsted Jr. As they step into the entrance hall they are delighted to see the gold and crystal angels that adorn this room offering guests the warmest of welcomes to their home. As guests walk through the home they stumble upon The Loggia, the room in which Mr. Buck and his family are often found reading books in front of the magnificent fireplace or playing games. It too is dressed to perfection for the Christmas season complete with red velvet bows on the tree and mantel.
Once you are done touring the Pinewood Estate and have had a chance to listen to the daily carillon concert you are free to just walk and enjoy the garden. I was surprised to see that even in December there was so much still in full bloom. Our sub-tropical climate is perfect for camellias, roses, mums, and so many other flowers. The Bok Tower and Gardens also has a special section dedicated to children, where they can play and learn at the same time. Hammock Hollow Children's Garden is the perfect place for kids to run, climb, jump, explore and learn. On a hot summer day, the kids will love to venture to River Walk a place where playing in the water, fountains and jets is highly encouraged. The list of things to do at Bok Tower and Garden is pretty long...don't forget to have a bite to eat at The Blue Palmetto Cafe, stop into the Visitors Center for an interpretive display and film, and support the garden by shopping at the Tower Garden Gift Shop with tons of great unique gifts for everyone on your Christmas list this year. Be sure to click the links below for information on each unique feature found at this special garden...