Bok Tower Gardens in Florida has got to be one of the most special gardens that I've visited this year - it's spectacular, unusual, slightly haunting - especially when you hear the Carillon bells ring! And we chose quite a difficult day to visit - the temperature outside on the way there was 94F; the air-conditioning in my car chose to stop working; and then we encountered massive Florida thunderstorms later in the day (you can see the torrential rain for yourself later in this post!), which made both garden visiting and driving conditions challenging. But none of this made me think any less of this fabulous garden.
This is an extraordinary place - the brainchild of Edward Bok - a Dutch immigrant who made his fortune in publishing at the beginning of the 20th century as editor of "Ladies Home Journal" - one of the most successful publications of its era. He went on to become a Pulitzer Prize author. He was also a philanthropist and on 1st February 1929, the completed gardens and tower were donated by President Calvin Coolidge as a gift from Edward Bok to the American people. They now attract some 200,000 visitors a year (although you wouldn't have known that when I visited - a potentially rainy day in September is obviously a good time to dodge the crowds).
The Bok Tower has been described as "America's Taj Mahal" and sits on the highest point in Florida - formerly known as Iron Mountain. It has an outer facing of pink and gray Georgia marble and Florida coquina (a limestone of shell and coral fragments); a wonderful brass door that depicts the story of the creation; a magnificent sundial; and the famous bronze carillon bells - 60 in total - that sing out every day. It is an amazing sound, so if you are visiting, make sure you are there when the tower "sings".
The grounds cover 130 acres and you approach Bok up a long driveway through citrus groves - suddenly you see the tower ahead of you emerging through the trees. The gardens have been laid out around the tower and you find many different areas here, but the overwhelming feeling is one of peace.
There are benches everywhere for you to sit and enjoy the views; magnificent stepped borders reminiscent of England (until you look closer and realise that these are tropical plants, not English perennials); the Reflecting Pool, filled at this time of year with magnificent Victoria lilies - with their four-foot leaves (right) and an array of needle and cabbage palms (Florida's state tree). Everywhere you look there are stately oak trees with Spanish moss and also wonderful butterflies. This really is an extraordinary place and when the tower sings, the music will send shivers down your spine!
Eighty years on, Bok Tower Gardens have stood still in time and they will continue to do so following their designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1993. This is a really special place. Located near Florida's most famous tourist attraction - Disney World - this is a far cry from Mickey Mouse, and you will see and feel something really different here. But try and go on a sunny day - otherwise you will get soaked!