The Garden and Nature Sanctuary
In creating his masterpiece, Mr. Bok had only one requirement - to make it as beautiful as possible. Originally conceived as a bird sancturary, his vision evolved. He contracted the eminent American garden designer, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., to create a suitable beautiful setting for his tower and sanctuary. Mr. Olmsted Jr. diligently dug for an entire year just to install the irrigation (two thirty thousand gallon water tanks situated halfway up the tower fed the extensive system).
A Garden Grows!
Then in June of 1923 he began to plant and he continued at it for over five years! He moved in 1000 large live oaks, 10,000 azaleas, 100 sabal palms, 300 magnolias and 500 gordonias. He also planted hundreds of fruiting shrubs including blueberries, gallberries, and hollies. Today you can enjoy the fruits of his labor - but not literally as they're for the birds!.
While much of the garden is planted with native species there are also some impressive exotics worth noting. I especially like the trio of large bunya-bunya trees (related to Norfolk Island Pines) that stand near the entrance to the parking lot.
The tower's moat area is host to a number of native water plants (check out the spider lilies, horsetail rush (photo) and leather fern). Much of the garden is shady providing an optimal home for azaleas, camellias, ferns (including a grove of tree ferns) and philodendron. There are also nice plantings of justicia, impressive monsteras and graceful pygmy date palms flanking the Tower's massive brass door.
More Than Just a Garden...
Don't miss the Wildlife Pond. From its sheltered viewing blind you can observe native birds, wildlife and wetland plants. From this area hike the half mile trail through the garden's Pine Ridge Preserve to see what the area looked like before Mr. Bok worked his magic. This glimpse of endangered plants our native Florida Scrub eco-community is a real treat. For something completely different, you will also want to visit the adjacent Pinewood Estate, a 20 room villa once owned by a vice president of Bethlehem Steel (Mountain Lake Community remains an enclave of the wealthy to this day). Acquired by the Gardens in 1970 the mansion is now renowned for its 6 week Christmas at Pinewood event that begins every year on the day after Thanksgiving. Call the gardens for tour info and fees (contact info is found at the end of this presentation).
In the early days, in addition to Florida's native birds and the migratory species that visited every winter, the sanctuary was home to one of the only flamingo populations in the United States. In addition, European nightingales were brought in to have "sing offs" with our native mockingbirds. The mockingbirds won - imitating the nightingale's melodies and then singing variations like jazz musicians jamming on a rif!
The flamingos and nightingales are now long gone. Today Bok Tower Gardens is at the forefront of efforts to preserve native plant, animal, and bird species many of which are depicted in the marble carvings that adorn the Singing Tower's facade. Click Next for a look at how the artist Lee Lawrie graced the structure with sculpted creatures in an art deco celebration of Florida's wildlife.