Bok Tower Gardens announces $12M initiative to build new garden spaces

by: Bok Tower Gardens Updated:

Bok Tower Gardens Childrens Garden Perspective.
LAKE WALES, Fla. —

On the occasion of its 85th anniversary, Bok Tower Gardens is embarking on a $12 million capital campaign, Preserve the Legacy, Steward the Future to undertake four major initiatives to keep the Gardens relevant and sustainable, to include:

  • Rejuvenation of the Historic Core Garden
  • Improved Accessibility
  • Telling the Bok Tower Gardens Story
  • Stewarding the Gardens for Future Generations

“It’s an exciting time in the history of Bok Tower Gardens as we are about to undertake our vision for the future. We’re making big changes, without changing the spirit of the Gardens our guests have grown to love,” said Gardens’ president David Price.

Following a careful selection process, Bok Tower Gardens chose the landscape architecture firm of Nelson Byrd Woltz, based in Charlottesville, Virginia, to create the designs for the new garden spaces. The firm’s owner and principal, Thomas Woltz, was named the Design Innovator of 2013 by Wall Street Journal Magazine and is known for his holistic design approach and working knowledge of Olmsted landscapes, like that of the Gardens.

» IMAGE GALLERY: Bok Tower Garden expansion renderings

“Our work is rooted in science and observation, finding the voice of a site, and interpreting that for people to see and hear,” Woltz said. “Making the land visible is a big part of what our design work is about.”

“Throughout most of 2013, our staff, Board, and Nelson Byrd Woltz have been hard at work preparing to initiate Phase I of our 25-year master plan,” Price said.

Rejuvenation of the Historic Core Garden—$2.5 million

The 60-bell carillon Tower and historic Olmsted gardens are at the heart of the Edward Bok legacy. To ensure this National Historic Landmark is preserved for future generations, the Tower must continue to be well maintained. Particular attention will be given to removing rust, sealing, and painting the iconic tile grilles surrounding the bell chamber at the top of the Tower.

Every 25 to 30 years, a thorough evaluation of plantings in the historic core garden is made to ensure the original Olmsted design principles are adhered to, and that plantings remain healthy and thriving. These larger, critical restoration projects require funding above normal annual operating budgets and will include a comprehensive editing of plants, replacement of older plantings to ensure plant health, and augmentation of plantings to feature greater plant diversity, colors, and textures near primary walkways.

The campaign goal for these rejuvenation projects is $2.5 million.

Access the Gardens Differently—$1.5 million

A gentle grade to a spectacular new oval walkway and special event lawn will be constructed behind the Gardens’ Visitor Center to help guests more easily find their way to Pinewood Estate, the Singing Tower, and the new expansion gardens to the north.

Because increasing numbers of visitors with limited mobility utilize wheelchairs and families with young children require the use of strollers, the primary path will be re-graded and paved to meet ADA compliance, using a material and color that blends with the garden setting.

“Accessibility for everyone has been a really important piece of our planning process, so that young and old can together enjoy the entire Gardens,” said Cindy Alexander, co-chair of the campaign.

The Blue Palmetto Café will offer expanded outdoor seating next to a colorful pollinator garden which will attract birds and butterflies, while a new dedicated shuttle route through the core Garden will offer a convenient pick-up point adjacent to the Visitor Center, enabling guests with limited mobility to enjoy more of an immersive garden experience.

The campaign goal for these accessibility projects is $1.5 million.

Telling Our Story—$2.1 million

Inside the Visitor Center are exhibits that tell the story of Edward Bok and the Gardens. However, these exhibits are static and dated, and have not changed since the Visitor Center’s opening in 1997.  To tell a more comprehensive Bok Tower Gardens story, a series of dynamic exhibits will be installed, using modern technology and other media to engage and inspire people of all ages.

To the north of the historic landscape garden is a diverse native habitat that tells a very ancient story about Florida. Those familiar with the Gardens’ “wild side” at Window by the Pond and the Pine Ridge Trail know these areas are a magnet for wildlife.

“The idea of sanctuary, of beauty, of people immersed in nature presents a tremendous opportunity to capture their imagination and emotions,” Woltz said of the storytelling perspective of the project. “As people come to know more about this place, Bok Tower Gardens can help build a new generation of environmental stewards.”

Funding is needed for restoration and expansion of this area that will take visitors through an eight-acre diversity of Florida ecologies, including an oak hammock, sandhill preserve, and wetland bog. Additionally, the Garden’s existing pond is leaking and must be repaired. Window by the Pond and the Endangered Plant Garden will remain intact to be discovered by new generations of visitors.

The campaign goal for these interpretive projects is $2.1 million.

Stewarding the Gardens for Future Generations—$5.9 million

Recent research into daily visitation revealed that while a new generation of visitors ages 40 and under is coming to the Gardens, they are not staying very long. Those with young children are looking for an opportunity for unrestricted play and more modern, family-friendly amenities. Three undeveloped acres of land north of the Visitor Center will be transformed into two distinctive and engaging garden spaces.

Keeping children in touch with nature is important to building their confidence, independent spirit, critical thinking, and ultimately their capacity for environmental stewardship. The new Children’s Garden will be a place of hands-on fun, natural beauty, learning, and creative play.

Reflecting the unique spirit of Bok Tower Gardens, this garden will teach conservation and the vital connection between animals, plants, and people. There will be beautiful art, cooling water features, vibrant plantings, a boardwalk, canopy climb, and a performance stage and music area.

Children will have things to climb on, under and through, as well as places to build, dig and create. The Discovery Center at the entrance of the Children’s Garden will offer space for programs, small classroom learning, and staging for field trips or groups.

“We need to have refuges like this that can be maintained for future generations,” said Board Chair Michael Aloian. “If this place were to go away, I feel that the State of Florida would turn into a big parking lot. We have too many places where we have immediate need for gratification, and I think the Gardens offer the complete opposite of that.”

Adjacent to the Children’s Garden will be a new Kitchen Garden that connects farm to table. Edible display gardens surrounding an outdoor kitchen will be a welcoming destination for daytime or nighttime educational programs and events showcasing lifestyle gardening and the culinary arts. From cooking demonstrations to VIP receptions, and from private rentals to school group programs, this new garden will be a hub of horticultural and culinary activity.   

The Kitchen Garden also will complement the Gardens’ new University of Florida /IFAS educational partnership to develop school vegetable gardening programs throughout the State.

To sustain and support these initiatives, Bok Tower Gardens is inviting community investment into its current endowment to generate the necessary ongoing operating income.

The campaign goal for projects to steward the Gardens for future generations is $5.9 million.

Construction Process and Timeline

Phased construction at Bok Tower Gardens is slated to start this summer, with the groundbreaking for the new Children’s Garden planned for this fall. It’s estimated that the entire project will take 18 to 22 months to complete, and the Gardens will remain open for the duration of the expansion.

“Fortunately, the areas designated for new gardens won’t disrupt current visitation, and we’re staging construction in a way that least impacts the visitor experience,” Woltz said.

Supporting the Campaign

To date, the Gardens’ Preserve the Legacy, Steward the Future campaign has generated approximately $7.7 million of the $12 million needed to complete all the projects.

“We began quietly fundraising nearly two years ago and have achieved 100% financial participation by our Board, Campaign Cabinet, and Gardens’ staff,” Price said. “But there is still much work to be done, and a number of ways to get involved.”

Gifts of cash or securities may be made outright or pledged up to a maximum of five years. Specific gift provisions through one’s estate, for donors over age 70, will qualify for campaign recognition. For more details about gift options, visit the Gardens’ campaign website beginning Feb. 1 at www.BokLegacy.org.