Gardens: The Exotic and Mystical Getaways of Florida

Tourists travelled long distances to see the many lush gardens that Florida had to offer. As a result of Florida's mild climate and long growing season, profiteers were able to create colorful and lavish gardens out of the state's swamps and pine forests. Roadside attractions with gardens differed from public parks and gardens in that they were smaller in size and they were not strictly botanic.

Dedication of Bok Tower: Lake Wales, Florida picture (1929)

Dedication of Bok Tower: Lake Wales, Florida picture (1929)

Image Number: PR08878

L-R: Mrs. Coolidge, President Calvin Coolidge, Mrs. Edward Bok, Mr. Bok at Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower dedication on February 1, 1929.

Bok Tower in Lake Wales, Florida (19--)

Bok Tower in Lake Wales, Florida (19--)

Image Number: PR75829

Bok Tower was constructed by the Pulitzer Prize winning editor of Ladies Home Journal, Edward Bok. Dedicated on February 1, 1929, Bok Tower became one of the first major tourist attractions in Florida during the automobile age. The tower was constructed to cover irrigation tanks used to water the gardens on site. Bok Tower is a Historic Landmark that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The marble and coquina stone tower contains 60 bronze bells weighing from 17 pounds to more than 11 tons.

View of Bok Tower: Lake Wales, Florida (1947)

View of Bok Tower: Lake Wales, Florida (1947)

Image Number: C005204

Entrance gate to the McKee Jungle Gardens: Vero Beach, Florida picture (193-)

Entrance gate to the McKee Jungle Gardens: Vero Beach, Florida picture (193-)

Image Number: N048384

Entrance to 80 acres of natural jungle setting with more than 2,500 varieties of rare plants, including pelican flowers from Guatemala, mahogany from Africa, giant bamboo from the Far East, and Australian tree ferns. Wildlife exhibits include colorful macaws from Brazil, graceful flamingos from the West Indies, talking parrots from Mexico, mynah birds from India, African crowned cranes, acrobatic monkeys, and playful Florida otters. A large walk-in bird aviary allows visitors to see many tropical birds up close. The large Orchidarium holds thousands of orchids in all colors, shapes, and sizes.

A young woman taking a break at McKee Jungle Gardens: Vero Beach, Florida (194-)

A young woman taking a break at McKee Jungle Gardens: Vero Beach, Florida (194-)

Image Number: N048380

One of Florida's finest naturalistic attractions with enchanting trails and strange exotic beauty at every turn: pelican flowers from Guatemala, mahogany trees from Africa, giant bamboo from the Far East, and Australian tree ferns. Wildlife exhibits include macaws, flamingos, parrots, mynah birds, cranes, monkeys, and otters. During World War II the U.S. Navy used McKee Jungle Gardens for training pilots in jungle survival.

"Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission $1.85 for adults and 50 cents for children ages 5 to 14."

Waldo Sexton with monkeys at McKee Jungle Gardens: Vero Beach, Florida picture (195-)

Waldo Sexton with monkeys at McKee Jungle Gardens: Vero Beach, Florida picture (195-)

Image Number: N048396

Folk-architect and co-founder of the McKee Jungle Gardens.

Unidentified lady stands in front of the sign for Cypress Gardens: Winter Haven, Florida (19--)

Unidentified lady stands in front of the sign for Cypress Gardens: Winter Haven, Florida (19--)

Image Number: PR20658A

Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida, was founded in 1936 by Dick and Julie Pope. By the 1950s, Cypress Gardens became one of the biggest roadside tourist attractions in Florida.

Scenic view of Cypress Gardens: Winter Haven, Florida (19--)

Scenic view of Cypress Gardens: Winter Haven, Florida (19--)

Image Number: FPS01372

Flocks of flamingos at Busch Gardens: Tampa, Florida

Flocks of flamingos at Busch Gardens: Tampa, Florida

Image Number: C673373

Southern Belle stops to smell the roses: Winter Haven, Florida (19--)

Southern Belle stops to smell the roses: Winter Haven, Florida (19--)

Image Number: PC5987

Accompanying note "Beauty among the many varieties of roses found in the rose gardens of world famous Cypress Gardens"

View showing water skiers holding flags during performance at the Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven, Florida (19--)

View showing water skiers holding flags during performance at the Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven, Florida (19--)

Image Number: COM01893

Founded in 1936 by Dick and Julie Pope, Cypress Gardens was the state's first theme park. Proclaimed the Water Ski Capitol of the World, Cypress Gardens became the birthplace of performance water skiing in 1941.

According to historian Ken Breslauer, the dedication of Bok Tower Gardens on February 29, 1929, "started the boom in Florida roadside tourist attractions." Prior to the dedication in 1923, editor of Ladies Home Journal and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Bok purchased land in Lake Wales and began developing gardens on the land. Eventually, Bok built a "Singing Tower" to house irrigation tanks for the gardens. At the dedication in 1929, President Calvin Coolidge was in attendance. A 57-bell carillon sits atop the tower and still plays for tourists today.

In 1932, businessman Arthur G. McKee and realtor Waldo Sexton opened a roadside attraction of their own called McKee Jungle Gardens just south of Vero Beach on US 1. Originally a nursery, McKee and Sexton transformed the land into a garden tourist destination. During the 1930s, McKee Jungle Gardens became one of the state's biggest tourist spots. Animals were also incorporated into the attraction, including monkeys collected in Africa. By the 1960s, the roadside attraction declined in popularity and closed in 1976. Most of the gardens were bought by a real estate developer, but a local organization saved a small portion of the property and preserved the legacy of McKee Jungle Gardens.

Around the same time McKee Jungle Gardens opened, Dick Pope lured tourists to visit his roadside attraction called Cypress Gardens starting in 1936. Just a few miles north from Bok Tower, the lush gardens attracted many tourists driving down the Orange Blossom Trail. During the early 1940s, Pope hired women to wear antebellum-style dresses and to walk around the park, a tradition that still exists today. During World War II, Pope introduced water ski shows to entertain troops who visited the gardens. The water ski shows still remain as one of the major attractions at Cypress Gardens.