Tower and Gardens in Lake Wales, Fla
the parking lot, we could see the top of the Singing Tower
peeking through the pines and moss-draped oaks, an elegant
pink tower of marble and coquina stone that houses a set
of bells a carillon that plays short concerts
were casual visitors, having stopped on impulse at Bok
Tower Gardens on the drive home from Central Florida to
Miami. We knew little about it and thought wed be in
and out in 30 minutes. We were wrong.
were unexpected bonuses: the gardens designed by
Frederick Law Olmstead that surround the Singing
Tower, the gorgeous Gothic and Art Deco details of the
structure itself and the view from the Lake Wales Ridge
looking west across orchards.
205-foot tower, built in the 1920s, is off U.S. 27 three
miles north of Lake Wales and 55 miles southwest of
Orlando. It stands atop 298-foot Iron Mountain, the
highest point along the Florida peninsula (there are a few
higher spots in the Panhandle). Edward W. Bok, a Dutch
immigrant, author and publisher of Ladies Home Journal,
bought the land for a bird sanctuary. He commissioned
Olmsted to design the gardens with the Singing Tower as
its centerpiece, then opened the grounds to the public.
Bok, who died in 1930, is buried at the base of the tower.
It is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.
the visitors center there are also a cafe and a gift
store with a wing just for plants we joined a guided
tour that took us on a leisurely, winding path through the
gardens and bird sanctuary. Only some of the flowers were
in bloom for our visit in January, but gardens are known
for their blaze of spring color, when azaleas, camellias
and magnolias are in bloom. There are edible berries for
the birds, duck ponds and bird baths, and for humans,
nooks for contemplation and quiet conversation.
we made our way up the gentle slope, the tower came in and
out of view through the trees, until we came from behind a
cluster of trees and shrubs and saw it rising high above
us and in the reflecting pool before us. Where we had seen
only pink from a distance, now we could see the veins of
pink and coral and gray in the stone, the stone sculpture,
wrought iron and gorgeous tilework, called ceramic
faience, that portrays birds, trees, flowers and other
scenes of nature. A marble sundial was set in one exterior
wall, a brass entrance door in another.
tower is known as Bok Tower and the Singing Tower for its
carillon, which has 60 bells ranging in weight from 16
pounds to nearly 12 tons. We did not get to go inside.
Built to be appreciated from the outside, the tower houses
a library, offices, water tanks, maintenance area and of
course the bell chamber, but is not open to the public. It
is surrounded by a moat.
tower and grounds are undergoing a $12 million expansion
and refurbishment that should wrap up next summer, most
notably restorative work to the carillon and the faces of
Tower Gardens, 1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales; 863-676-1408;
boktowergardens.org. Open daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Carillon
concerts at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily with short selections
played on the hour and half-hour. Admission: $12 adults,
$4 children 5-12.