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A Colorful Controversy

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Wildly revered for their blooming majesty and striking emerald leaves, the azaleas of Bok Tower Gardens have been a favorite since their initial planting by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. However many visitors may not know of the controversy surrounding the choice of color. During the Gardens’ early planning stages, Edward Bok wrote, “if a man wishes to see me roaring mad, he wants to plant some magenta flowers in any garden of mine.”

Ever the visionary, Olmsted coolly replied, “regarding the color of magenta that you do not wish to have on the place we would say we have tried to avoid it. There is, of course some remote possibility that some magenta flowering azaleas have crept in… Occasionally, people jump at the conclusion in this connection and so really deprive themselves of a good thing by ordering the removal of the plants.”

The ultimate conclusion to the magenta controversy was finally resolved with Mr. Bok’s correspondence in 1928. “I think every part of the sanctuary should be interesting…and have some color in it…Therefore I am quite at one with your suggestion to plant a thousand more azaleas.”

The blooming legacy of Bok Tower Gardens continues each spring with both a riot of color from the magenta and pink azalea varieties and the cool serenity of the delicate snowy white blooms of the famed Edward Bok variety (R. mucronatum var mucronatum ‘Edward Bok’). A living tribute to Mr. Bok, the variety was selected by the National Trust of Scotland in 1952 and wild collected from plants in Taiwan. The name ‘Edward Bok’ was registered by Bok Tower Gardens in the 1990s. While many visitors are enchanted by the bright magenta color, Formosa azaleas (var. formosa) are actually the most vigorous growers of the varieties and are well suited for central Florida landscapes.

Visitors can expect plenty of blooming majesty this summer from Texas Olive, Yellow Plume Flower, Pineapple Guava and Loblolly Bay and so much more.

For more information on Edward Bok and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.’s visions and correspondence, purchase a copy of Bok Tower Gardens: America’s Taj Mahal from the Tower & Gardens Gift Shop.