Dutch immigrant Edward Bok created an idyllic sanctuary in Lake Wales in Central Florida at 298 feet above sea level. He also commissioned a 205-foot bell tower made of pink and gray Georgia marble and Florida coquina rock designed by Milton Medary of Philadephia. Together, this created Bok Tower Gardens, born in 1929, and now a National Historic Landmark.
Visitors may stroll along Bok Tower Gardens’ paths, lie upon the verdant lawn, feel the breeze and take in the beauty of azaleas, camellias, magnolias, roses, orchids, palms, oaks and pines while listening to the 60-bell Singing Tower during afternoon carillon concerts.
A good place to start your tour is the Visitors Center which features permanent exhibits that provide insight and historical perspectives on Bok’s life and influence as well as the gardens and a nine-minute orientation video. Temporary exhibits there showcase artists’ interpretations of Florida’s flora and fauna.
Bok Tower Gardens was designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Its wildlife population includes 126 species of birds as well as the threatened gopher tortoise and endangered eastern indigo snake.
Bok grew up in the Netherlands until the age of six and remembered the music of the carillons (bells) from his childhood. He commissioned the Singing Tower as the focal of the gardens. Bok’s 60-bell carillon features a range of bells from 16 pounds to nearly 12 tons.
The carillon is one of only four in Florida, 200 carillons in North America and about 600 in the world. The carillon is played from a keyboard (sometimes called a pedalboard) on which the keys are depressed by the player’s closed hand and feet. The keys are connected to the bells’ clappers by vertical and horizontal wires.
Tower Architect Medary said, ”In a single, simple unit, [the Tower] must sing of music, sculpture, color, architecture, landscape design and the arts of workers in brass and iron, ceramics, marble and stone—each part of a chorus, each adding the beauty to the others.”