Alcatraz is one of San Francisco’s most popular attractions – with over 1.3 million visitors per year to the island’s former prison. But the occupants of Alcatraz have another – more beautiful history – of working to landscape the island’s rocky cliffs.
Since the 1800’s – plants have grown on Alcatraz. During its life as a military prison and a federal penitentiary for the "worst criminals in the USA" — the flowers continued to grow. In the 1960’s – when the prison closed – the garden tenders left too. Until 2003, when the Garden Conservancy; National Park Service; and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy banded together to bring the flowers back.
Landscaper Carola Ashford is devoted to the island’s garden restoration. She found the island overgrown in ivy and blackberry bushes. With Carola’s team’s work – the incredible dormant gardens began to return.
Other gardeners at Alcatraz are famous (and notorious). Freddie Reichel was the secretary to the warden in the 1940’s. Freddie strove to find plants that could survive the harsh wind and fog of Alcatraz. Planting bush poppies, succulents, and blue-flowered price of Madeira – Freddie created some of the most amazing gardens on the island.
Elliott Michener was a convicted counterfeiter who created amazing terraced plantings; birdbaths; and greenhouses. Michener’s gardens are one of the focuses of restoration today. The gardens provided solace to Michener during his imprisonment and hope to provide that comfort today.