I was recently invited by The Garden Conservancy to tour the Alcatraz garden project. The Conservancy, in partnership with The Golden Gate National Park Conservancy, has spent the past 5 years restoring and replanting the barren and windswept old prison in the middle of San Francisco Bay.
Talk about Gardening Gone Wild! It is a truly wild and difficult site. The fact there are any gardens at all is a testament to the human spirit. This barren rock had hardly any soil until early Army engineers brought soil in the 19th century for the original military prison and built a Victorian style garden.
Much of what prospers today are hardy Mediterranean native plants that were planted as a beautification project starting in the 1920s. Notice the Acanthus mollis here with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
The gardens were expanded during the years as a Federal penitentiary, 1933- 1963, when prisoners were given permission to work out of doors. Other naturalized flowers such as Centranthus ruber grow among succulents under the watchful guard tower.
The ferry ride trip to the gardens is a must do tour for any visitor to San Fransisco. The prison itself has definite if depressing history, but the very location of this island rock with sweeping views of the city skyline is thrilling. Below we see Verbena and Achillea on a hillside overlooking the Bay.
Late addition tour tip from an Alcatraz volunteer (Comment #7): ” . . . we encourage GGW readers to join our public tour of the gardens: we take visitors behind the scenes on Friday and Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m. (Book your Alcatraz Cruises ticket for the 9 o’clock boat.) Or come on a Wednesday, when we open the Officers’ Row gardens to visitors from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.”