For 150 years, a succession of soldiers, families of correction officials, and inmates cultivated gardens hewn on the rocky, windswept island of Alcatraz. For ten years, the Garden Conservancy led the effort to rehabilitate the Gardens of Alcatraz in partnership with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service. In 2014 the restoration project completed successfully. Visitors once again are able to enjoy and gain insight into the role these plantings played in the lives of people who inhabited this harsh environment. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is now managing the gardens locally.
U.S. Army establishes fortifications and undertakes construction projects, including the Main Road, on the mostly stratified sandstone and guano-coated island.
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.
The military post becomes exclusively a military prison.
After construction of a new cell house, inmates build and plant gardens on the island's west side near the guard tower.
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).
The island is transferred from the military to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
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.
After most of the officers' cottages are demolished, staff families and inmates plant cutting gardens in the building foundations.
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.
The island is occupied as part of the American Indian protest movement. Many of the structures are destroyed by fires.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is established, placing Alcatraz under National Park Service management with increased public access.
Alcatraz is designated a National Historic Landmark.
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.
The rehabilitation of significant planting beds begins with participation of staff and volunteers.
The garden rehabiliation effort receives a Save America's Treasures grant. Officers' Row is replanted.
The Cell House slope is replanted and the west side gardens begun.
Shelagh Fritz succeeds Carola Ashford as project manager. Rainwater catchment system installed. The Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project wins two prestigious California Preservation Foundation awards.
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.
After successful completion of the Historic Gardens Project led by the Garden Conservancy, management of the Gardens of Alcatraz transitions to local management under the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. The Garden Conservancy continues to collaborate actively.
For more information, visit alcatrazgardens.org.
The revitalization of the historic gardens of Alcatraz is beautifully captured in Alcatraz Gardens: Remembered, Reclaimed, Reimagined.
Historic Alcatraz Gardens Project
Read the fascinating story of the ten-year project we led to rehabilitate the Gardens of Alcatraz!