For 150 years, a succession of soldiers, families of correction officials, and inmates cultivated gardens hewn on the rocky, windswept island of Alcatraz. The Garden Conservancy is leading the effort to rehabilitate these gardens in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for visitors to enjoy and gain insight into the role these plantings played in the lives of people who inhabited this harsh environment. www.alcatrazgardens.org
Gardens of Alcatraz blog
Keep current with the latest news through project manager Shelagh Fritz's lively blog.
View a 3-minute video introduction to the volunteer program at the Gardens of Alcatraz (2011)
Recent press coverage
"Gardens on Alcatraz?" SiteLines, Fall 2012. Includes a "Place Maker" profile of garden manager Shelagh Fritz
"California Sketches: Reincarnation of Alcatraz in Bloom," Sacramento Bee, June 26, 2011
"Alcatraz, a blooming garden spot," Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011
"New life in Alcatraz Island gardens," San Francisco Chronicle, May 16, 2010
"Escape to Alcatraz," Gardens Illustrated, January 2010
"Rock Gardening," Preservation magazine, January/February 2010
Partnership Project award, February 10, 2010. See page 3 of the Association of Partners in Public Land Awards Bulletin.
California Preservation Foundation awards, September 19, 2009
1853: U.S. Army establishes fortifications and undertakes construction projects, including the Main Road, on the mostly stratified sandstone and guano-coated island
1861: A military prison is established. Soil is brought in from nearby Angel Island and along with the dirt comes seeds of wild blackberry, coyote brush, and blue elderberry. Barley and ice plants are planted to control erosion and a few gardens are created near what will become Officers' Row
1881: Gardening becomes an important aspect of daily life for officers' families and prison inmates as some of the original gardens give way to a row of officers' cottages, each with its own garden plot
1907: The military post becomes exclusively a military prison
1912: After construction of a new cell house, inmates build and plant gardens on the island's west side near the guard tower
1924: Using plants and seeds donated by the California Spring Blossom and Wild Flower Association, prisoners plant hundreds of pounds of nasturtium and poppies, shrubs, and 300 trees (eucalyptus, pines, cypress, and giant sequoias)
1933: The island is transferred from the military to the Federal Bureau of Prisons
1934: Freddy Reichel, the warden's secretary and an avid gardener, convinces the warden to allow the federal prisoners to garden and seeks advice and plants from prominent California horticulturists. For the next 15 years three inmates in particular, Dick Franseen, Elliott Michener, and Jack Giles, play important roles in developing and tending the west side gardens, the water tank area, and the gardens and greenhouse at the wardens house
1940: After most of the officers' cottages are demolished, staff families and inmates plant cutting gardens in the building foundations
1963: The penitentiary is closed and the island is transferred to the Governmental Services Administration. Although a caretaker stays on, the gardens begin to decline with invasive overgrowth covering many beds and paths
1969: The island is occupied as part of the American Indian protest movement. Many of the structures are destroyed by fires
1972: The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is established placing Alcatraz under National Park Service management with increased public access
1986: Alcatraz is designated a National Historic Landmark
2003: A partnership is formed among the Garden Conservancy, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the National Park Service to restore the gardens of Alcatraz
2004: The stabilization of Officers' Row and western terraces commences under the direction of Carola Ashford, a Garden Conservancy Marco Polo Stufano Fellow and later Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project Manager
2006: The rehabilitation of significant planting beds begins with participation of staff and volunteers
2007: The garden restoration effort receives a Save America's Treasures grant. Officers' Row is replanted
2008: The Cell House slope is replanted and the west side gardens begun
2009: Shelagh Fritz succeeds Carola Ashford as Project Manager. Rainwater catchment system installed. The Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project wins two prestigious California Preservation Foundation awards
2010: Volunteers erect new propagation greenhouse in Rose Terrace; greenhouse dedicated to the memory of Carola Ashford. Partnership Project award from the Association of Partners in Public Land
Open year round. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Admission and Tours
Free docent led garden tours Fridays and Sundays, 9:30 a.m. from the Alcatraz dock. There is no entrance fee. However, there is a charge for the ferry service, supplied by a private company under contract to the National Park Service. For additional information on schedules, prices, parking, and to purchase ferry tickets in advance (tickets are made available about 90 days in advance) please visit the Alcatraz Cruises website or call 415.981.7625.
There are fifteen commercial lots within a five-block radius of the Hornblower Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33, with a total of more than 3,000 parking spaces. There is no parking on Pier 33.
For directions and additional information, visit the Gardens of Alcatraz website.
To view a map of the parking areas, click here.