Hernando residents looking to get away for the day can find an island of tranquility at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales.
It’s a peaceful place where visitors can stroll leisurely along garden paths, taking in the scenery and tranquility.
The wide paths lead to a 205 foot high carillon bell tower, acting as the centerpiece of the garden.
The tower was completed in 1929 at the commission of Edward W. Bok. It’s base sits at 298 feet above sea level, one of peninsular Florida’s highest points, in Lake Wales.
Bok was born in 1863 in the Netherlands, but moved with his family to America when he was 6 years old.
His grandmother told him, as he left for America, “Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you lived in it.”
This was Bok’s guiding philosophy for building the tower and garden, wanting it to be an island of tranquility.
Bok, who died in 1930, a year after the completion of the tower, is quoted as saying of his garden and tower that it was “a spot which would reach out in its beauty to the people, and fill their souls with the quiet, the repose, the influence of the beautiful.”
The tower itself is made of Florida coquina and four million pounds of Georgia pink & gray marble.
Coquina is Florida’s native rock, a result of a mix of limestone, coral, and shell fragments compressed over time. Coquina was used quite a bit by Spanish settlers in the 16th century and was used to build the early fort in St. Augustine.
The tower was designed by famed architect Milton B. Medary and crafted by noted stone sculptor Lee Lawrie.
The tower is home to one of the world’s finest carillons, a musical instrument consisting of bells that is played by striking a keyboard. Music from the 60-bronze bell carillon resonates through the garden daily at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
“The music is so peaceful. We came for the music … and the serenity of the place, so serene,” said Lois Houck, of Palm Harbor, who was visiting the gardens with her husband Larry Clement. “It’s just so beautiful.”
The smallest carillon bell weighs about 16 pounds and the largest bell weighs more than 11 tons, for a total of 63 tons of bells.
A grillwork of colorful ceramic tiles, found only on the top third of the tower, adorn the bell chamber, allowing the sound of the bells to carry throughout the garden.
Eight marble heron statues top the tower, carved in place.
A great brass door anchors the tower.
A mote and a reflecting pool surround the tower, inhabited by giant Victoria water lily pads and enormous koi fish.
The water lily pads can grow to 7 feet in diameter. The water lilies can grow to about 12 inches in diameter. And these are just a sample of the beautiful botanical specimens on display at Bok Tower Gardens, along with large old oak trees, dripping in moss, and gracefully framing the perimeter grounds of the gardens.
Bok Tower Gardens is located in southeastern Polk County, 1151 Tower Blvd. in Lake Wales.
Adult admission tickets are $12; children ages 5- 12 are $3.
The gardens are open 365 days a year, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.
For more info, contact Bok Tower Gardens at (863) 676-1408 or visit www.boktowergardens.org.
Hernando Today correspondent Heather Francis can be reached at toheatherfrancis (at) gmail.com.