Visitor Center & Exhibit Hall
The Visitor Center features a museum with permanent exhibits that provide insight and historical perspectives on Edward W. Bok’s life and influence, as well as the Singing Tower and Gardens. Many historical documents which detail Bok’s family history, his time as editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, and his Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography are on display.
A cut-out of the largest bell of the Singing Tower offers visitors a chance to compare their size to that of the bell, which stands more than six feet tall and weighs nearly 12 tons. A miniature replica of the Singing Tower displays whats behind the walls of the Tower and what is housed on each level. The original keyboard for the carillon in the Singing Tower is preserved in the museum and gives visitors a chance to play a note and see the workings of the carillon. Illustrations and photos of the history of the carillon, the making of bells, the building of the Singing Tower, and information about each of the Tower’s artisans illustrate the monumental undertaking to build the 205-foot tall Tower.
Also featured is information relating to the Gardens, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., as well as the habitat of the Lake Wales Ridge, one of the most endangered habitats in the world that is supported by the Gardens’ Endangered Plant Program. Many of the animals that live in this habitat also are endangered. A topographical map showing a cross-section of Florida details the different habitats found at varying sea levels. Millions of years ago, scrub vegetation extended across the southern United States. Today, remnants of those habitats persist on the ancient sand dunes which compose the Lake Wales Ridge. Historically isolated from one another and other parts of the state during periods of rising sea levels, these areas are islands of biological diversity.
The Singing Tower
During the time that Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. was designing Florida’s first historical landscape garden, Edward W. Bok decided he wanted to add something to the site that would pay homage to his Dutch homeland. He envisioned a majestic Singing Tower that would serve as the focal point of the Gardens, provide a permanent home for a world-class carillon, and feature the work of the most famed artisans of his time that would create “a spot of beauty second to none in the country.”
Edward W. Bok selected Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to plan the landscape architecture of his gardens. As the son of the “father of landscape architecture,” he worked closely with his father on many landscape architecture projects including the Biltmore Estate, and he 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.
The Landscape & Architecture of Pinewood Estate
Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. had designed Edward Bok’s gardens and many of the private gardens inside the neighboring community of Mountain Lake. The original owner of Pinewood Estate, Charles Austin Buck, commissioned the Olmsted’s firm in an unhurried creative collaboration after purchasing Pinewood Estate’s property in 1930. As Olmsted Jr.’s representative in Lake Wales, William Lyman Phillips was chosen to oversee this project.
The Estate’s garden design would guide the architecture of his 20-room mansion as he wanted a home that reflected the easy Latin lifestyle he enjoyed as a young man working in Cuba, Chile and Venezuela. In the early 1920s, Florida’s new Mediterranean-style architecture was the rage with its promise of the romance of exotic lands, but with American conveniences. Spanish, Venetian, Tuscan, North African and Moorish motifs were reflected in the Mediterranean-style that featured many characteristics of an antique villa including a red barrel-tile roof, thick stucco walls, substantial carved doors and woodwork, fountains, towers, ornate trim and intricately detailed wrought iron.
Bok Tower Gardens is proud to be a partner in Polk County’s Trek Ten Trails program. You’ll find three geocaches located on the 3/4-mile Pine Ridge Nature Trail, and three others elsewhere on Bok Tower Gardens property. They include numerous trade treasures and a log book.
Get Free Admission to Bok Tower Gardens
Show your Trek Ten Trails validation card at the entrance gate with four trail stamps, and you will receive free admission to the Gardens.
The Preserve Trail and the Pine Ridge Nature Trail provide visitors the opportunity to walk through restored pinelands and fields on land preserved through our partnership with Green Horizon Land Trust and The Florida Community Trust.
This 1.5-mile trail begins at our gate house and connects with the Pine Ridge Nature Trail leading to the parking lot and Visitor Center. The trail is located within rolling hills of citrus groves on lands being restored to their native state and enhanced with wildflower and native grass plantings. Signs along the trail display the history of citrus, flora and fauna of this habitat, the ecological role of fire, and the natural history of the Lake Wales Ridge.
Pine Ridge Nature Trail
The 3/4-mile walking trail takes you through the unique longleaf pine/turkey oak habitat that once covered millions of acres of the Southeastern United States. The longleaf pine forest is now in danger of disappearing. Fortunately, we have been able to preserve a portion of this habitat for visitors to experience and learn from. The trail begins near Window by the Pond and ends at the Visitor Center and parking lot.
Bok Tower Gardens is an oasis to the 126 species of birds that can be seen here throughout the year. As you explore the landscape gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and the natural Florida scrub habitat of the Pine Ridge Nature Trail, you’ll often find a wide variety of beautiful birds including the Snowy Egret, Eastern Screech Owl, Bald Eagle and Wood Duck. Our distinct and diverse habitats attract many native and migrating birds to the Gardens.
Beginner Bird Watching Advice
- In Florida, birds tend to be most active in the earliest parts of the morning.
- To learn the different species of birds quickly, study families of birds first.
- Settle into a comfortable spot and stay still to allow birds to relax when they come near you.
- Bird watch with a companion. When you see a bird, describe its features to allow them to search through the bird guide.
- Take notes of when you saw and identified a bird.
Bird Photography Advice
- Patience is a must with bird photography. That’s part of the fun of it all!
- Early mornings and late afternoons are the best time to photograph wildlife.
- When shooting with an SLR camera, a lens with a 300mm zoom range is recommended.
- Keep an eye out both above and below for different types of birds and other wildlife.
At Bok Tower Gardens there is something to discover for visitors of all ages! Families are encouraged to explore the Gardens at their own pace.
Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden
Featuring almost three acres of nature play, this garden will teach conservation and the vital connection between animals, plants, and people. There will be beautiful art, cooling water features, vibrant plantings, a boardwalk, performance stage, and music area. Children will have things to climb on, under and through, as well as places to build, dig and create.