In the near-center of the state, equidistant from the rolling waves of the Atlantic and the flat waters of the Gulf, sits Lake Wales, built on the banks of its eponymous lake and home to fewer than 15,000 people. The area is most famous for its geography—the sandy hills of the Lake Wales Ridge, which form the highest point in the state of Florida. It’s here, among the sand hills and the fish camps, that an astonishing feat of architecture and landscape design was constructed in the late 1920s. Today, Bok Tower Gardens encompasses 250 acres of meticulously crafted gardens and one of only 185 carillon towers in North America. Together, the gardens and their singing tower form one of the most astonishing and transcendent destinations in all of Florida.
A Bit of History
Bok Tower Gardens (1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales; 863.676.1408; boktowergardens.org) was created under the direction of editor and author Edward Bok. Bok helmed Ladies’ Home Journal beginning in 1889 and transformed the magazine into one of the most successful publications of its era. Throughout his life, Bok was obsessed with beauty. He championed the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the century and was an early promoter of Frank Lloyd Wright. “Wherever your lives may be cast,” he said, “make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.” Bok died in 1930 and is buried in the gardens at the base of the tower.
The Carillon Tower
The heart of Bok Tower Gardens is its singing tower. Designed by some of the most renowned architects of the early 1900s, it combines Art Deco and neo-Gothic design. The face is made of coquina stone brought from St. Augustine. Elaborately carved friezes feature scenes from Florida wildscapes—cranes, pelicans, flamingos, seahorses and jellyfish. The tower holds 60 bells of cast bronze. In the winter months, a full-time carillonneur plays live concerts twice daily.
How to Visit
Bok Tower Gardens is open 365 days a year. The carefully crafted landscape highlights a variety of habitats and features, from quiet pathways intended for contemplation to pollinator gardens that feed the birds, butterflies and pollen-loving insects that are essential to Florida ecosystems. During the spring bloom, the gardens are vibrant with azaleas, camellias and magnolias. Need a break from all that manicured lushness? Visit the three-quarter mile Pine Ridge Nature Trail. A habitat for longleaf pine and turkey oak, the trail features a preserved portion of native Florida habitat. Watch for gopher tortoises as well as the endangered and nonvenomous eastern indigo snake.
Take Some Refreshment
An entire day can pass in tranquil bliss at Bok Tower Gardens. Thankfully, visitors don’t need to leave the property to recharge their batteries; The Blue Palmetto Cafe features light breakfast and lunch fare, plus a selection of beer and wine. Don’t miss the cafe’s fresh-made sandwiches, salads and homemade soups. For the best garden sipping, enjoy a sparkling mimosa.