The Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden adds a new dimension to Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales.
For once, parents might enjoy watching their kids eat sugar – chomping on it happily. That’s because, rather than Starburst or Kit Kat bars, the sugar will be just that – sugar. Not the white granular stuff we stir into iced tea, but raw sugar cane.
As part of a demonstration in Bok Tower Gardens’ new Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden, youngsters might be handed a bit of cane, encouraged to chew on it, taught to make syrup and educated about how the stuff in a Dixie Crystals bag comes to be.
Chief Horticulturist Greg Kramer went out of his way to get that sugar cane, too. Sometime during the past couple of years, while preparing for the new kitchen-garden combo to open, he drove almost 130 miles – from Polk County’s Lake Wales, where Bok Tower Gardens (boktowergardens.org) is located, to Belle Glade.
Cane came straight from the source
There, in one of the westernmost cities in Palm Beach County, a generous farmer was waiting to donate the hard-to-find plants.
That’s the kind of passion that drove members of the Bok Tower Gardens team to develop this new project the way they did.
The complex itself, named after its founder, Edward W. Bok, a Dutch immigrant, has been around since 1929, drawing tourists with its Scandinavian-style “singing” carillon tower and carefully landscaped grounds. They were designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who also masterminded New York City’s Central Park.
The new Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden’s look comes from Thomas Woltz, a modern-day landscape architect whose accomplishments include New York City’s Hudson Yards. Woltz was named Innovator of the Year by The Wall Street Journal Magazine in 2013.
Business savvy made the team consider adding the garden. Visitors tend to be of the “older demographic,” Kramer acknowledges, and an outdoor kitchen and edible garden might appeal to families. “We want to reconnect the public, and particularly children, to how food is grown and produced,” Kramer explains.
“We’re incorporating children back into the garden. They can look at the vegetables growing and sample what’s grown and see us prepare it.”
The area will also be available for weddings and other private parties, which will help offset the $1.5 million investment.
The Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden, which debuted in spring 2016, has several sections. At the center is a covered, open-air 6,400-square-foot kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances, including a Belgard brick oven and a gas fire pit with Italian-style cantilever string lights. The counter island, at 15 feet, is plenty long enough for culinary demonstrations.
Guest chefs will be invited in regularly. Natural ventilation and eco-friendly materials, such as Florida keystone and reclaimed cypress, were used in construction.
From garden to kitchen
Food grows all around the kitchen. Vegetable beds are on one side; and an orchard, with fruit trees, is behind. “We also grow a variety of low-chill grapes that do well in Florida, and some low-chill peaches,” adds Kramer. “They’re not going to put Georgia out of business, but they’re good peaches, quite tasty, and ideal for small children because you’re finished in five bites.”
The produce in the garden beds will change seasonally, he adds. “We’ll always have something in the vegetable garden, like cabbages and mustards in winter; greens in the cool season; peppers and watermelons and squash in summer.”
Be on the lookout for special events at Bok Tower Gardens, not all of them geared toward the 12-and-under set. Adults tend to favor some of the Outdoor Kitchen series’ events, such as Culture & Cocktails. Well, sure, it’s a lesson in horticulture …
Rona Gindin writes about Florida food and travel. Read more of her stories at www.ronagindin.com.