Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has more than 400 plant species in the conservatory’s four themed biomes — Himalayan, Desert, Tropical Rainforest and Pacific Island Water Garden — and 40 palm species in the Victorian palm house, one of the original sections of the 1895 conservatory.
But Franklin Park offers more than flora and flowers. The botanical garden is home to a permanent collection of Dale Chihuly glass sculptures and features exhibits of both well-known and emerging artists.
Although not all of the conservatory’s 16 Chihuly installations are always on display, “there’s always some Chihuly in the building,” said Dee Ashworth, visitor experience manager. About half of the garden’s permanent Chihuly collection is out at any given time. “Sunset Tower,” which has more than 600 glass pieces, has never been moved since it was installed.
But the garden also brings in an art exhibit each summer; they have included Aurora Robson’s “Sacrifice + Bliss” and Bruce Munro’s “Light.” The conservatory even created a dedicated display space, the Cardinal House Gallery, for delicate art pieces that would not do well in the humid conservatory.
“We’ve found a lot of success integrating art with the garden,” Ashworth said.
Visitors can also stop by the courtyard glassblowing studio, which does daily demonstrations about 10 months of the year, shutting down after the holidays during the worst of winter. The demos are free with admission, and guests can buy the artists’ glass pieces in the gift shop or have the glassblowers customize a piece with a name.
Franklin Park’s annual “Blooms and Butterflies” exhibit just celebrated its 20th year. From mid-March through September, the garden brings in 1,000 butterflies every week and lets them loose in the Pacific Island biome. The exhibit is a favorite because “everybody loves the butterflies, whether there are two or a 200,” Ashworth said.
Bok Tower Gardens
Lake Wales, Florida
When Edward W. Bok decided to build Bok Tower Gardens, he set out to create a sanctuary, for both people and wildlife. When the garden opened to the public in 1929, it was originally called the Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower.
Three main features define the property: the gardens that were designed by renowned landscape architect Frank Law Olmstead Jr., the 205-foot-tall Singing Tower that houses a 60-bell carillon and the 1930s Mediterranean-style mansion, Pinewood Estate, at the heart of the site.
The design is intended to draw visitors through the gardens from “room to room” rather than, say, plop them in a formal rose garden.
“What you are going to find are these sublime little moments where you walk down a path and it opens up into a fern gully, or you turn a corner and find these amazing camellias in full bloom in spring,” said Jennifer Beam, director of visitor services and programs.
The intricate Art Deco Singing Tower is a true centerpiece. A special group package, “Meet the Carillonneur,” allows visitors to meet the musician who plays the carillon concert twice a day. He answers questions about how he plays the wood keyboard that operates the clappers that ring the carillon’s 60 bells. The package also allows groups to cross the moat around the tower, which is closed to the public, for a photo opportunity. Many groups opt for the Culture and History package, which includes access to the gardens, a self-guided tour of the 20-room Pinewood Estate and a boxed lunch, Beam said.
In late October, Bok Tower Gardens will break ground on an 18-month, $12 million project to rejuvenate the core gardens, improve the grounds and enhance access. Projects planned are adding a children’s garden for families, creating a kitchen garden for cooking demonstrations and paving the main walking path to improve accessibility.