Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bok Tower and Gardens

Can you believe we had the opportunity to visit not one, but three, botanical gardens in our 10-day trip to Florida? The second on our list was the Bok Tower and Garden - a national historical site - in Lake Wales, Florida.

Although we went on a cool, overcast day it was a delightful place to be. Built originally in the late 1920's the trees and shrubs are mature and full - a big contrast to the newly opened Naples Botanical Garden that we saw earlier in the week. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., this garden has the feel of the big stately garden grounds - like the Biltmore Estate or Central Park - but in this setting a very different sort of vegetation. It does come complete, though, with sculpture and a moat with swans - as any proper formal garden should.

We were there in Camellia season, but it was also interesting to see azaleas in bloom. In Central Virginia we get camellias in November through March, but the azaleas don't start blooming until April, so the two don't normally overlap. In this setting, tho, they are very complementary. And I loved the juxtaposition of the deciduous shrubs with palm trees and Spanish Moss.

As you can see from the map, there are large lawns and planted areas surrounding a lake and the tower itself. The tower is located on the highest point in Central Florida. It is situated in such a way that it is completely reflected in the lake at its feet. [I suspect that has more to do with the way the lake was sited, but they describe it in terms of the tower. Good PR there.] The elevation here is actually something near 300 feet - which for most of us is nothing, but in Florida is quite remarkable. The gardens spread around it on three sides, but on the fourth side the land actually falls away sharply creating a shelf only a few hundred feet behind the tower and giving the visitor the impression of standing on a cliff looking down on the town far below. It's an optical illusion, but a nice one.

The large planting areas included many camellias and azaleas, but also orange trees and various palms and Youpon holly. But there were also beds of annuals [well, at least where I live] and some gorgeous big agaves. These do not grow at all in my zone, so I am always fascinated by them.

There was also a variety of statuary. Some if it was "traditional" bronze figures, but the best, to my eye, were modernistic sculptures of flowers. These were scattered around the flowering beds that surround the education center.

The Tower itself is interesting. Over 200 feet tall, it is built of native stone and marble with gorgeous mosaic windows at the top. It contains a wonderful carillon, which is played frequently. When we were there they were celebrating its anniversary, so there were live concerts every afternoon and we were there in time to hear one. Other days they have recorded concerts. And, when the days are longer they have them in the evening as well. We did not stay to meet the carilloneur, but we could have! [They are doing some repair and renovation, so you can see scaffolding at the top.] If one has the appropriate level of membership (financial support), one can go into the Tower, but we were only poor travelers on the road, so we were satisfied with an exterior viewing.

An historical note here. Mitchell remembers his grandparents and aunt driving from Virginia to Florida in the 1940's to visit the Tower and Gardens. They made many trips to visit gardens, so this is not a big surprise. It was a surprise, however, that as we were driving from Naples to Orlando, when he spotted the sign he started looking for the tower. And, it was he who pushed to go see it.

One final note. I think it's always wonderful to find an idea that one might use in one's own garden and I found a great one at Bok Tower. It's not one I can use in my climate, but Elizabeth has a new house and is working on her landscaping, so I think she might want to give this a try. At the entrance/education building there is an enclosed courtyard with sidewalks around it and a garden in the center. Along the walks - and I suspect to dissuade walking into the garden - are "walls" made of plants. They have strung "air plants" together with wire and suspended them at one-foot intervals along the walk. The plants are staggered and they have used several different types of plant. I actually didn't know that air plants came in so many varieties, or grew so large. That's one of those zone things again! If you live far enough south (or perhaps west) that bromiliads will make it through the winter, or if you can figure out a way to shelter them, this might be a good idea for you, too.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Guest Garden - A Baby Bot!

Do you ever tour a house that is under construction? You know, you walk thru the studded walls and see where the tub is and look at the rest of the plumbing - "here's the master bath" - or "look at the view where these windows are going!"

Touring the newly opened Botanical Garden in Naples, Florida is a lot like that. Open less than three months, it is easy to see the potential and it's very pleasing in its current state. The bones are great and some parts are already spectacular.

In a very smart move, they have put the children's garden at the front of the garden. You enter thru that tunnel of sawpalms into a fun and interesting area with a tree house, silly gardens, a butterfly house, waterfall and a winding path that takes one thru areas that represent both geological history and the various environments of Florida. [A little learning stuck in with the fun.]

The path winds thru little gardens and ends at this little "cracker" house, which represents the one-room homes of the early 1900's. In January all the blooms happened to be pink and lavender - to match the paint job! It was charming. Behind the house is a garden full of everyday items used as planters - wading boots, a toilet, a sewing machine and all manner of yard junque. All sure to engage and please the younger set, and in many ways this is already the most "finished" part of the entire project. A smart way to draw the younger set, who will bring their children and stay to enjoy the rest of the garden.

The "big" areas right now are the Brazilian Garden, which is filled with bromiliads - literally thousands of them - from Brazil and the Caribbean Garden with plants from other South American countries and islands. Here one can see how young this garden is. All of the trees (palms) and plants are small. In a year when they have grown and filled in, the area will be drop dead gorgeous, whereas right now it's only interesting. Unfortunately, I did not have a way to collect the botanical names, so you either have to go yourself if you see something that you really like, or contact Marie over at 66 Square Feet for help [she is great on proper names!] I can only show you a few that I found particularly nice.

As you can see, the variety is endless. There were only a few in "bloom", but imagine it in a couple of years. It will be marvelous!

The centerpiece of the Brazilian Garden is a large water feature, complete with tropical water lilies. They were not in bloom yet, but also show a lot of promise for the future. You can see in the distance a lovely mosiac at the top of the waterfalls.

The final area that is currently open is a pavilion and walkway out into a swamp - remember that we are only a few miles from the Everglades here. Along with the "Beware of Alligators" signs are native grasses and bog plants. There is also a bocce court - perhaps in acknowledgment to early Italian settlers to this area.

Two new areas that are still under construction will showcase plants from tropical and sub-tropical Asia and native plants for Florida - including demonstration gardens. They will continue into the water plants and wetland areas that fill the southern half of the state and much of Collier County.

You can see here how sparse the growth is right now. In a city where palms and native grasses grow wild and thick, there is too much open ground here. In a year, it will be filled in and the plantings lush like they are in their natural habitat. I can hardly wait to go back in a few years and see how this garden grows!!