Unveiling nearly eight acres of natural discovery

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September 2, 2016
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Native, Natural and WILD… Bok Tower Gardens Unveils New Gardens Combining the Visions of Two Master Landscape Architects

LAKE WALES, Fla. – Inspired by the natural beauty and ecological diversity of Central Florida, philanthropist Edward Bok purchased a large tract of scrub and pine land on Iron Mountain with a vision of creating a bird sanctuary and in his own words, a place that would “touch the soul with its beauty and quiet.” 87 years later, Bok’s vision blossoms once again with the largest expansion in Bok Tower Gardens’ history unveiling nearly 8 acres of new garden experiences at a special dedication ceremony on September 10 at 10am.

Edward Bok's great-grandson Dr. Tomas Bok and lead landscape architect Thomas Woltz of Nelson Byrd Woltz will be available for interviews following the ceremony. 

Edward Bok’s Gift to the Nation
As described in “A Report on The Mountain Lake Sanctuary” written in 1956, Edward Bok intended his garden to be “a Sanctuary for Humans and Birds […] a place for withdrawal, for contemplation, reflection and spiritual refreshment through contact with Nature.” The original Bok Tower Gardens, built on what was described as a “barren sandhill with 200-300 native pine trees,” was initiated in 1923 by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects.

The initial character of Bok’s direction and Olmsted’s design intended the Gardens to be small and intimate with areas of “open” and “closed” scenery.  The Gardens were also intended to be “Floridian” in character, and according to the report “comprised of a portion designed for the use and enjoyment of a few people at a time and a portion designed for the use and enjoyment of many people at a time.” Bok wanted the Garden to be a respite for migratory birds, and included at least 50 bird baths that served up to 30 varieties of birds. 

Bok would write, “it is nothing unusual to hear the mockingbird, the thrush, the robin, the Kentucky cardinal, the bob white, the blue jay, the towhee, the warblers, all singing and whistling in concert, producing a combination of note and song entrancing in its effect.”

Building Upon A Masterful Design
Based on this knowledge, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW), along with landscape architect Mary Wolf and local landscape architecture firm Coyle & Caron, was engaged for the organization, planning, and implementation of a new design for the gardens. The firm began by thoroughly researching the Bok/Olmsted collaboration, the ecology, and the underlying design principles of the site.

For the historic gardens, the design focused on improved circulation including ease of movement and accessibility while respecting the established cultural landscape. New gardens and new programs retained the original intent of the Olmsted Gardens and were seamlessly integrated into the existing cultural landscape.

Increased accessibility, through a re-grading and resurfacing of the primary path to meet ADA compliance, now allows for an increasing number of guests to navigate the Gardens with ease. Bok Tower Gardens’ original arrival point had become obscured as the Gardens evolved and this landmark has been rediscovered, revealed and re-integrated into the path network and marked for visitors to experience.

Mirroring Florida’s Native Ecosystems
Designed by NWB, the all-new Wild Garden is a unique and exciting contrast to the orderly beauty of the historic Olmsted Gardens. A modern restoration and recreation of Florida habitats, this rambling, native landscape is a natural mirror to the preserve lands that can be found on the opposite side of the path. During the implementation phase, a controlled burn was used to remove invasive plant species, clear the land and prepare the garden space for final planting.

Comprised of four distinct ecosystems, The Wild Garden includes a pine forest, oak hammock, wetland prairie and bog resulting in the largest collection of native plantings in Bok Tower Gardens’ history. More than 135 native species were collected with permission from native habitats to provide seeds need for the plantings.

A walk through the Wild Garden adds nearly one mile of new garden experiences for visitors with an ever changing canvas of plant diversity attracting a wide variety of wildlife. Photographers have already discovered native animal species are already making themselves at home including rare Florida Sand Skinks, Gopher Tortoises, American Kestrels and American Swallow-Tailed Kites.

A Natural Filtration System
Beyond the forest and hammock is a 5,000 square foot wetland that serves as natural filtration system for the Wild Garden. This area compliments the Wildlife Pond that was added to the Gardens in the 1960s. Much like an aquarium filter, the water circulates from the pond into the high end of the wetland. Gravity then helps the water flow toward the low end of wetland through a biosorption activated media (BAM) layer made from terra cotta pellets that support bacteria which remove harmful nutrients from the water.

Created by the Natives, Inc. of Davenport, Florida, the plant palette focuses on native wetland plants that are showy with bloom or textures, offer food and refuge for wildlife.  Inspired by real Florida ecosystems, the wetland is surrounded by plantings found in wet prairies, pine flatwoods and bogs including carnivorous pitcher plants which are ideally suited for nutrient-deficient soil.

Learning through Play
Florida’s duverse ecology and its keystone species are also the basis for the underlying landscape and interpretive experiences at Hammock Hollow Children's Garden. Hammock Hollow is divided into zones based primarily on existing vegetation, landform and microclimate. River Walk, an interactive fountain water play area was inspired by the unique geology of Florida. The Heart of the Hammock, is dominated by large existing oaks and provides a cool shade and a place for creative play, exploration, and quiet observation and reflection. Pine Place is inspired by the subtle beauty and open canopy of the native sand hill landscape. The Bird Hollow, a low topographic bowl where cypress trees mark the entry, leads visitors along a narrow boardwalk that winds its way through the hollow.

Hammock Hollow emphasizes the beauty of native plants integrating stories of their interdependence with animals including keystone species. This design direction was identified as one of the major elements needed to accommodate Bok Tower Garden’s changing visitor demographics and encourages families to be inspired through outdoor learning, play and exploration.

A Public Garden for the Next Generation
The expansion ushers in a fresh relevancy while still preserving the founder’s original design and intention. “Bok’s humanitarian and environmental vision is more relevant today than ever as botanical gardens strive to achieve a new level of public inspiration and education,” said Woltz when asked about his collaborative design. 

“The idea of sanctuary, of beauty, of people immersed in nature presented a tremendous opportunity to capture both imaginations and emotions. As visitors come to know more about the new spaces, Bok Tower Gardens builds a new generation of environmental stewards,” said Woltz.

According to Gardens’ president David Price, “Edward Bok would be proud to see our new direction and how the Gardens is embracing the combination of native horticulture and cultural vibrancy with the serenity and meditation visitors have experienced nearly nine decades,” said Price.

“The plants will grow to embrace the new structure so that they become part of this beautiful space. I look forward to new visitors and members, and to welcome our longtime members back to a serene garden budding with new areas to explore. Building a garden is a journey and we excited to have reached our destination,” said Price.