I hummed along with the familiar song singing through Bok Tower Gardens but couldn’t quite put my finger on what song it was. Something by James Taylor? Nope. Barry Manilow? Maybe. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” Yes!
Standing atop a 298-foot mountain (in Florida height, that’s a mountain!), the signature attraction in the lush gardens is the 205-foot tall Singing Tower, established in 1929 by Dutch born editor (Ladies Home Journal) and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward W. Bok. He was also an advocate of world peace and the environment and a respected humanitarian.
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The Hill is Alive with the Sound of a Carillon…
I seriously wanted to spin around and roll down the green hills while singing, “the hill is alive, with the sound of a carillon!” But that wouldn’t have been appropriate, because I was wearing a skirt (not because I’m forty-something years old). The view of the surrounding area was incredible and overlooked orange groves and plenty of green spaces. Seeing that in Florida always makes me happy because I know much of the state is still undeveloped.
The Singing Tower has a carillon which is a musical instrument made of at least 23 cast bronze bells fixed in a frame. The carillon at Bok Tower Gardens has 60 bells ranging in weight from 16 pounds to nearly 12 tons! Why did Bok build the Singing Tower? He wanted to add something to the gardens paying homage to his Dutch homeland. He was charmed by the melodies of old world carillons of the Netherlands. Bok Tower Gardens is home to Florida’s first carillon and is one of four in the Sunshine State.
A person plays the carillon but not all the time. Recorded selections are played at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and every half-hour thereafter until 5 p.m. Live and recorded concerts are performed daily at 1 and 3 p.m. Mr. Bose, yes, as in Bose that manufactures speakers and headphones, installed speakers so the recorded selections are crisp and mesmerizing.
Gardens are Groovy, Too
I wandered past over-sized greenery and felt as though I was transformed to old Florida. I spotted ferns, pines, oaks, palm trees and several plants I could not identify and imagined this is how it used to be about 100 years ago. Famed architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. designed the historic landscape which is a National Historic Landmark.
Reaching the pink-hued tower, I looked up to see a balcony near the top. A moat surrounds the tower and all I could think of was “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”
Around the tower and at the extreme top are carvings in pink marble of various native flora and fauna along with scenes from Aesop’s fables. At the very top stand four groupings of 14-foot-high herons – a male heron gripping a fish in its beak perched next to a hen and her nestlings. The gardens are a bird sanctuary and home to more than 120 different bird species and is a designated site on the Great Florida Birding Trail.
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Nuts & Bolts for Visiting Bok Tower Gardens
Located about an hour’s drive south of Orlando and less than a 90-minute drive east of Tampa, I’m embarrassed to admit my first visit to Bok Tower Gardens was last week! It’s really a pleasant drive and worth the trip. I’ll probably be sharing the experience with my parents during their next visit.
Bok Tower Gardens
1151 Tower Blvd.
Lake Wales Fla. 33853
General Admission: Adults $12, Children $3
Bok Tower Gardens is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. with last admission at 5 p.m. The Visitor Center, Blue Palmetto Café and Tower & Garden Gift Shop are open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. with limited hours on holidays.