Visitors were asked to share their Bok Tower Gardens stories at the beginning of the Preserve the Legacy, Steward the Future capital campaign to capture the culture, history and legacy of one of America’s most beloved historic landmarks. These stories became the foundation for nearly six years of master planning, fundraising, landscape design, and construction efforts. As this exciting chapter comes to a close, Bok Tower Gardens is about to unveil new gardens that tell the story of agriculture, nature and the planted garden.
The Most Successful Capital Campaign in Gardens’ History
The campaign scope and master planning began in 2011 focusing leadership on four areas of operation deemed critical to the future health and well-being of the Gardens, including:
• rejuvenation and restoration of the Tower and historic core garden
• increased accessibility and circulation
• creation of spaces that better tell the Gardens’ story
• more youth opportunities and endowment-building to steward the future of the Gardens
This was the largest capital expansion campaign ever undertaken by the Gardens in its 87-year history. Previously, the largest fundraising campaign was in 1994-96 when $4.5 million was raised to build the current Visitor Center. Through the efforts of the campaign chairs Cindy Alexander, JF Bryan IV and William G. Burns, the board of directors, and a community of gracious donors, more than $16 million was raised to transform and preserve the Gardens for future generations. “It all started with one gift by Edward Bok– his legacy to all of us. We are not just the caretakers of the legacy; we are charged to nurture this legacy into the future,” said Alexander perfectly summarizing the campaign’s success.
A Fresh and Modern Design by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects
In conjunction with the fundraising efforts and after a careful selection process, Bok Tower Gardens chose the landscape architecture firm of Nelson Byrd Woltz, in collaboration with Coyle & Canon and Mary Wolf Landscape Architect, to lead the design process for the new garden spaces and the revitalization of the historic Olmsted gardens. Nelson Byrd Woltz 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.
Woltz was charged with the unique mission to embrace the legacy of the Gardens while providing a modern vision for the future. “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 when asked about his overall vision for this landmark project.
He continued “I am always looking for the story of a site. Our work at Bok Tower Gardens was centered on revealing the layers of this legacy space, its history, geology, hydrology, plant communities, wildlife and culture. We looked to the past to create contemporary and relevant new spaces that transform these areas to a public garden appropriate for the 21st century.”
Rejuvenation and Restoration of the Tower and Historic Core Garden
The 60-bell carillon Tower and historic Olmsted gardens are at the heart of Edward Bok’s legacy. To ensure this National Historic Landmark is preserved for future generations, the Tower received significant restoration to the iconic tile grilles surrounding the bell chamber and many other interior improvements.
Critical rejuvenation projects occurred within the historic core garden to preserve the original design intent of landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. These included a comprehensive editing and replacement of declining plants to feature a greater diversity of Florida natives.
As designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz, the gentle grade from the Garden’s Visitor Center to a spectacular oval walkway and special event lawn provides an attractive and modern gateway allowing guests to easily navigate to Pinewood Estate, the Singing Tower, and nearly 8-acres of new garden experiences.
To serve the increasing numbers of visitors with limited mobility and families with young children and strollers, the primary path was re-graded and surfaced to meet ADA compliance, using materials and colors that blended with the garden setting. “Accessibility for our visitors has been a really important piece of our planning process. We want young and old to enjoy the entire Gardens together,” said Alexander when asked about the motivation for creating improved visitor access.
Woltz’ design has created a unified garden with the new and the old to create a sequential experience for the visitor from agriculture to nature and into the historic garden. The new design incorporates the original entrance to the garden as planned by Fredrick Law Olmsted Jr. A ribbon of paved path through the gardens creates an accessible main walk to take visitors through this series of garden experiences leading along the original entrance as designed in the mid 1920’s. Secondary mulched paths remain and crisscross this ribbon to allow exploration of more intimate areas of the Gardens. The Mosaic Company donated fine pebble stone used to line pathways through the Pollinator Garden, Edible Garden and Pine Ridge Preserve Trail. Hidden among the pebbles are many fossils of sea creatures that inhabited Florida long ago.
The Blue Palmetto Café patio has been expanded to offer al fresco seating next to the Pollinator Garden attracting native birds and butterflies. A new shuttle route through the core Gardens provides a convenient pick-up point adjacent to the Visitor Center, enabling guests with limited mobility to enjoy a more immersive garden experience.
Creation of Modern Garden Spaces for a New Generation of Visitors
A new Wild Garden showcases Florida native plants and wildlife in a series of ecosystem plantings. The eight-acre area north of the historic garden is planted with a rich diversity of native plants creating a series of ecosystem gardens including an upland pine savanna, oak hammock, wet prairie, wetland, bog, pine flatwoods, and pond. A 170-foot boardwalk meanders through the wetland prairie and overlooks the restored wildlife pond. The new main walk takes visitors through this native plant garden and into the historic gardens from the original 1929 entrance.
Through Woltz’ impressive design and collaboration with Bok Tower Gardens’ horticultural team, these new gardens will blend naturally with the original intent of the Olmsted gardens. “We wanted to create an engaging contrast going from a raw ecology to a highly developed garden. Visitors will feel like they are moving along a beautiful timeline,” said Woltz.
Stewarding the Gardens for Future Generations at Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden
Keeping children in touch with nature is important to building their confidence, independent spirit, critical thinking, and capacity for environmental stewardship. The new Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden has a native Florida character as a place to learn through play. Children can climb on, under and through natural structures as well as create art and learn about nature.
Publix Super Markets Charities and Carol and Barney Barnett were instrumental in the creation of River Run that brings the Florida water story to life in Hammock Hollow. This garden features 23 arcing jets of dancing water, and numerous foggers and misters set amid rock work reminiscent of the limestone caverns found in north Florida. Ferns and mosses line a rock ledge that dips into the nearby hollow.
This garden brings art and nature together with a theme of the vital connection between plants and animals and people. In addition to the cooling water features, there are stone mosaics and a friendly giant indigo snake mosaic by the artist Kevin Carman, giant acorn sculptures by David Price, log climbing compositions, giant gopher tortoise tunnel, vibrant plantings, boardwalk, garden music instruments, and a Seminole-inspired Chickee Hut. A 250-pound carillon bell is hung in the garden near a performance stage. The Alexander Discovery Center at the entrance to the Hammock Hollow hosts a variety of programs, small classroom learning, and staging for field trips.
Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden
Designed by the architecture firm Lake|Flato, the Outdoor Kitchen features 6,400 square feet of culinary garden-to-table activity and is punctuated with a wood-fired pizza oven, top-of-the-line outdoor appliances and much more. Festive café string lights, ceiling fans and vine trellises make the kitchen functional, beautiful and intimate despite its large size. A center island with granite countertop provides more than 15 feet of space for chef demonstrations.
The Edible Garden includes fruit orchard, grape arbors, and raised beds for herbs and vegetables. This area is a hub of horticultural and culinary activity showcasing lifestyle gardening and the culinary arts.
Ongoing Educational Partnership with University of Florida/IFAS
The Edible Garden also complements the Gardens’ new UF /IFAS educational partnership to develop school and community gardening programs. A new Center for Education and Conservation was built and opened on Gardens’ property as a hub for this partnership. The partnership will also foster ongoing educational programming providing a renewed focus on Florida food, culture and nature.
Leadership Focused on the Future
Throughout the entire campaign, the Gardens’ president David Price provided leadership and vision using the 20-year master plan as a road map through the many months of construction and changes. His unwavering dedication to the Gardens was the guidance needed to reach completion. “Journeys start with a bit of unknown, intrigue, trepidation, and excitement. The last six years have been a collaborative journey to preserve the legacy and steward the future of the Gardens. Along the way so many joined the walk, sharing ideas, hard work, long discussions, visions, memories, skills, wisdom, time, and financial support. We would not have reached this final destination without each and every person who contributed to this enduring legacy,” said Price. “We thank you for being part of this journey.”
Bok Tower Gardens will celebrate the grand opening of the new garden spaces on Saturday, September 10 with a special dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. The Gardens will open at 8 a.m. and general admission will be free for this historic event.