An Olmsted Garden Legacy

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.