I’ve told you a little bit about the food in Central Florida, a little bit about the wine, now it’s time to talk attractions. And I don’t mean the kind with iconic mouse ears or butterbeer (although I’d never pass up an opportunity for some of that sweet nectar). I’m talking about Bok Tower Gardens.

I have to admit: It’s a bit odd driving up to the gardens. You turn off the main road, pass a small apartment complex, pay a small fee at an unassuming ticket booth, then drive down a long, winding, rather stark, rather dusty road, through acres of orange groves. At least I think they were oranges – I was busy smashing my face up against the window like a small child, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of Bok Tower rising in the distance. For a minute, I thought, “Really? There’s a beautiful, lush garden here somewhere?”

That’s the thing about gardens – especially in Florida – they can crop up pretty much anywhere.

In hindsight, I kind of like the contrast between the agricultural order of the orange groves and the Olmsted-designed oasis that is Bok Tower Gardens. It’s reminiscent of the art gallery rule – you want a good amount of space around a piece, so you can fully envelop yourself in the art. There was no distracting from the beauty of the gardens.

Bok Tower Gardens

After a surprisingly delicious lunch at the on-site café (no plastic-wrapped cafeteria food here!), we started meandering our way toward the tower. And when I say meander, I mean it. There were countless side paths, nooks, and crannies to explore. At one point, an owl burst forth from a tree just a few feet away from us (I immediately squealed and hid behind Joe) and settled high in a nearby treetop. And he watched us.

Bok Tower Gardens

{can you find the owl? because he’s definitely found you.}

According to Joe, my landscape architecture guru, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (who designed the National Mall and White House grounds, by the way) was a master at bringing together functionality and natural beauty. Responsible development and conservation.

Bok Tower Gardens

I could definitely see what he was talking about. At Bok Tower Gardens, paths curve in perfect unison with plantings. The space feels open and airy – you can really breathe – yet you feel nestled within the comforting embrace of the lush greenery. You could walk miles and miles and not realize it because you’re so lost in the moment.

In short, it was legit. And in the midst of all that botanical splendor, you hear this:

The carillon at the Singing Tower adds a unique layer to the experience. You already feel transported, but when the Singing Tower starts up, you feel like you’re in another realm – another world, even. It’s both haunting and peaceful.

Bok Tower Gardens

Bok Tower Gardens

Bok Tower Gardens

After the carillon concert – daily at 1 and 3 p.m., by the way – we made our way around the tower to and encountered yet another garden experience. Large sections of lawn, dotted with park benches and ancient trees stretching high into the sky. I felt like I was on the grounds of a Southern plantation. I could see how it would be the perfect place for a wedding or other special event.

My friends sat on a bench, hoping to capture a perfect photo op in front of the tower. I got in a few standard shots, my friend’s satin, flower-patterned dress a gorgeous accompaniment to the surroundings.

Bok Tower Gardens

And then Joe got silly. He grabbed a small bunch of the Spanish moss that copiously adorned the trees and transformed into: Moss Man. Well, at least Moss-Bearded Man.

Bok Tower Gardens

You’d think I’d be done by now, right? We’ve meandered, we’ve listened to music, we’ve met Moss Man. But we haven’t even gotten to the house yet.

Okay, it’s not a house – it’s an estate. Pinewood Estate is a Mediterranean-style mansion built in the 1930s, and walking around it, you’re once again transported – this time, to Tuscany or southern France (or at least how I imagine Tuscany or southern France to be). Wrought iron accents, a barrel-tile roof, cobblestone pathways.

Bok Tower Gardens

Unfortunately, the house was closed for renovations/holiday decorating when we visited, but we’ll definitely make a point to visit it when we come … Bok.

(I’m sorry, I had to. You know you love it.)

Bok Tower Gardens