There are lots of attractions in central Florida where you can pretend to be somewhere else, but if you’d like to experience the natural beauty of Florida, forgo the theme parks and visit Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales. Dutch immigrant Edward Bok, editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, created the gardens on the highest point in peninsular Florida, 295 feet above sea level. It began as a bird and wildlife sanctuary which would be open to the public. The design grew to include gardens meandering up to the highest point, culminating in an intricately-carved carillon tower standing 205 feet tall. The project took 5 years. It was dedicated to President Calvin Coolidge in 1929, one year before Edward Bok died.
Now 85-year old oaks draped with Spanish moss provide shade over the paths up to the tower. The music from the carillon resonates over the park. If you live nearby, go each season so you can experience each round of blooms.
Giant Victoria water lilies were the highlight this trip. Their pads can be up to 7 feet across and they can support 70 pounds (the website has a picture of a child sitting on one).
The Pinewood Estate is also part of the gardens. The Mediterranean-style home was built in the early 1930s. The surrounding gardens are more formal and manicured than the rest of the property. I love checking out the kitchen garden for ideas. This Seminole pumpkin, a native of the Everglades, is on my list.