Bok Tower Gardens boasts one of the greatest works of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. The meandering, historic landscape garden was designed to be a contemplative and informal woodland setting offering a series of romantic recesses and tranquil resting spots, picturesque vistas and breathtaking views of the Singing Tower. Acres of ferns, palms, oaks and pines fashion a lush backdrop for flowering foliage and the spectacular seasonal color of azaleas, camellias and magnolias (a highlight of our spring peak bloom season) showcasing an ever-changing work of art.
One of the wonderful attributes of the Gardens and natural habitats is its wildlife population. It includes 126 different species of birds as well as the threatened gopher tortoise and endangered eastern indigo snake. The grounds of Bok Tower Gardens is a designated site on the Great Florida Birding Trail.
The Gardens consist of mainly mulched pathways, many of which have an incline. There are two main pathways that lead to the Singing Tower that are paved. It is about a 10-minute walk to the Singing Tower from the Visitor Center with an 8% incline.
River of Stone
This unique pebble pathway at the Visitor Center features a simple, flowing pattern. The display of Tillandsia, commonly known as air plants, features more than 30 different species of the plant. Tillandsia require no soil and derive all of their nutrients from the air and water.
Spring Peak Bloom Season
More than 150 varieties of camellias and hundreds of azaleas along with nun’s orchids, irises and other flowering plants create an explosion of color. Since the exact date is hard to predict, visitors are encouraged to return all spring to experience the ever-changing palette of colors.
Pinewood Estate Gardens
Pinewood Estate features several unique garden areas designed by landscape architect William Lyman Phillips, including the Oriental Moon Gate, Frog Fountain, Vegetable Garden and the Grotto. The home itself is a 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion.
Exedra & Sunset Overlook
The marble Exedra was a gift to Edward Bok from friends in the neighboring Mountain Lake Community where he resided. This sunset view inspired Mr. Bok’s dream of the Gardens during his visits. At an elevation of 298 feet, this is one of the highest points in peninsular Florida.
Endangered Plant Garden
This garden is an area to learn about the rare flora found in Florida. The garden’s circular plan allows an up-close view of these rare and endangered plants. An analemmatic sundial is located at the center of the garden.
Window By The Pond
This small observatory overlooks the setting of a Florida bog. Visitors can watch birds, reptiles, butterflies and other animals in their natural habitat. A sign proclaims, “This is nature’s show, not ours. No scheduled performances.” Arrive early for the most wildlife activity.
This Japanese stone lantern was a gift to the Gardens as a tribute to Edward Bok from Usaburo Tsujita of Japan. Mr. Tsujita was an attendant in the Bok home in Pennsylvania for several years in the 1920s. This gift was assembled and erected in 1955 within sight of Edward Bok’s grave.
Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the landscape architect who designed the Gardens, specifically designed the pathway to shield the view of the Tower until reaching this point. This grand view of the Singing Tower is the perfect place for a photo with friends or family visiting the Gardens.
Landscape Architect: Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.
Pivotal to Bok’s plan to create the Gardens was the participation of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the most distinguished landscape architect of the generation. As bearer of the most renowned name in landscape architecture, Olmsted was chosen for positions of prominence from the very start of his career. He was the son of Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture and designer of New York City’s Central Park. After graduating from Harvard, Olmsted Jr. worked with his father on the Biltmore Estate and eventually landscaped many of Washington, D.C.’s most prominent landmarks, including the White House, Jefferson Memorial, Washington National Cathedral and the National Zoo. Later in his career, he wrote the key language of the federal legislation that established the National Park Service and served as the agency’s first director.
In 1923, Olmsted Jr. embarked on his mission to transform Bok Tower Gardens from a sand hill into one of the nation’s most beautiful garden sanctuaries. For the next five years, Olmsted Jr. and his team diligently planted a mix of native and exotic plants that would thrive in the humid climate and lend a tropical feel to the native oak hammock.
From a practical perspective, Olmsted also carefully selected plants that would provide a hearty supply of food and shelter for migrating birds and other wildlife in the Gardens.
The pathways leading up to the Singing Tower wind through the Olmsted historic landscape gardens. When visitors reach the top, a majestic view of the entire Tower is revealed in the Reflection Pool, showcasing one of Florida’s most photographed sites.
Edward Bok recruited famous artisans Milton B. Medary and Lee Lawrie to design a masterpiece that embodied the Gardens’ spirit of perfect unity, communicated through profound symbolism and represented in the unique Florida flavor. For example, the sculptures of the Tower convey a decidedly spiritual and nature theme through the use of majestic eagles and herons, as opposed to the gargoyles of traditional Gothic design.