Alcatraz: The Garden Tour, Part Two

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Once you reach the top, you’re at the cellhouse. If you’d continued following the garden tour, this is near where it ends, just beneath the Recreational Yard, where the fenced in prisoners’ garden once was and where it has been restored. (Note the Lobularia maritima in the foreground.)

In case you were wondering, this is the inside of the prison. To be honest, inside it is very small but it’s so interesting. (We had an amazing time watching the European tourists and we both loved hearing Italians speaking Italian.)

Back on the trail, these were the plants I was able to see as the tour went from the top of the Rock down along the westside towards the north with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge that’s amazing.
Perennial Statice, Limonium perezii.
Seed heads of Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis.
The refurbished prisoners’ area greenhouse.
The prisoners’ greenhouse back in 1993 or 1994 during my first visit to Alcatraz.
Aeonium arboreum and Acanthus mollis.
Crassula, Aeonium, and Acanthus. I am not sure what the silvery one is but I am sure someone else will know.
This is another view of the same area.
And another view. I think there are some Aloe in there too.
This is about as close as you can get to the water on this side. There is a fence though so you cannot walk on the pavement. This area is protected. Birds nest there.
Kinda not sure about this one but it is a Mediterranean plant all right.
Fig Tree, Ficus in the prisoners’ garden.
Notice the fence. You can also see the skyline of downtown San Francisco.
From that area you can walk up the steep stairs to the Recreational Yard.
We started to make our way back down to the ferry at this point and believe it or not there were still plants to see that I’d missed on our way up.
Crocosmia.
Monstera deliciosa in a photo display in the Warden’s Office of what it looked like during the Kennedy administration.
If you were coming to visit someone on Alcatraz, you would have had to walk under this display. The cornucopias with their bountifulness is a bit odd.
The planter box along the road down to the boat was full of Geraniums.
Behind this row and down below are some of the areas we’d been granted access too earlier in the day.
Alcatraz is full of Fuchsia after Fuchsia.
A lone Hydrangea with a few Western sword ferns, Polystichum munitum.
Leathery Polypody Fern, Polypodium scouleri. This is a great native plant.
 Trailing Iceplant, Delosperma cooperi.
Where the Rock meets man.
This was a very tall red Geranium.
 Trailing Iceplant, Delosperma cooperi.
Nasturium have taken over and are growing wild on the island.
Unknown Geranium.
Unknown Geranium.
Back at the dock there is yet another Geranium.
An unknown Fuchsia tree.
Fuchia trying to get off the Rock.
A carpet of Aeonium.
This is a view of the Aeonium carpet as seen from the ferry.

If this did not whet your appetite for a trip to Alcatraz, I don’t know what will! I can’t wait to go back myself and I am so impressed with of all of the amazing work they’ve accomplished with the gardens.

Alcatraz: The Garden Tour, Part One

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If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit the Rock, I hope that you gardeners out there will want to see it soon. Its many restored gardens are unlike any others you’ve ever seen and the atmosphere is incredible. Free docent led garden tours are offered at 9:30am on Fridays and Sundays, but you have to be on the first boat out to the island. Purchase tickets in advance online though because they almost always sell out ahead of time.

Visits to the Rock are not always quite this warm and sunny but when they are, it makes the trip even more enjoyable. Don’t forget to pack some extra clothing too because the area can become windy.

The first plants you’ll see while you are still on the boat are the Century Plants, or Agave parryi.

During the garden tour our guide told us these were planted as a barrier by the early military posted on the island.
The trail that grants access to this area of the island is closed during most of the tourist season because of nesting birds. If you’d like to get up close and personal with these gentle giants you’ll have to plan a visit during the fall or winter months. That’s the only time during the year when the trail is open.
Aeonium species and hybrids as well as Jade Plants (Crassula argentea) can be seen all over the island.
This Australian Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is most likely the oldest tree on the island. There are also several Dragon Trees (Dracaena draco) that were also planted by members of the military that were stationed here between 1850-1934.)


As you leave the dock and begin to walk up the Rock you are passing through the area with the oldest gardens on the island.

 Australian Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia).
The oldest Fuchsia on the Rock, this specimen is 70 years old.
A Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) near the cellhouse.

One of the advantages of the garden tour is that you are taken off the beaten path to admire all of the hard work volunteers have done over the last decade or so as they’ve improved gardening conditions. An extra added plus is that you get to see this! It’s the official compost area on Alcatraz!

This compost has even won some ribbons at the Marin County Fair! What’s not to love about that right?

With the help of the The Garden Conservancy the program here has truly flourished.

Limited to using historically accurate plant materials what’s wonderful is that after all of the overgrowth was removed from many of the gardens long overshadowed plants and bulbs started to return. With each new discovery we’re all learning more and more about how the island’s occupants once gardened. It is also a testament to the hardiness of many of these plants.

This rose was one of the amazing plants to be rediscovered on the island. Actually, it is probably the most important rediscovery. It is what’s called the Welsh Rose and up until 2003 it was thought extinct. That’s when this specimen was discovered on the island! Since then propagation work has been done and work has continued.

Aeonium arboreum gone wild.

Just above the compost and greenhouse level on the east side of the island are the last rows of gardens that were created around and in between the houses that once stood above the citadel. During my last trip I’d wanted so badly to wander down to them but due to the narrowness of the stairways and the unevenness of the paving they are too unsafe for the general public to walk around so be sure to take a tour! That’s the only way to gain access to these areas.

The plants in these little alcoves are very much the plants of gardeners who wanted to cheer up their isolated little spot in the bay. They were the first gardens of Alcatraz, but certainly not the last.

Just beyond the terraced area is the last portion of the earliest gardens and it is a bit more windswept and wild since it is at the top. Like the area below it, the housing structure has lost its wood to fire of uncertain cause and all that remains is the concrete skeleton.

I was left with some great pictures from the top of the Rock.
Kenilworth Ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) hugging the warm wall.
The spent flower stalks of Century Plants (Agave americana).
Note how the Jade plant (Crassula ovata) has its trunk partially in the shade. This adaptation also allows the plant to remain protected from the wind.
The hummingbirds of Alcatraz.

I should add that many of these areas were maintained by the prisoners of the Federal Penitentiary era but I will say more about that tomorrow.

To be continued…

Garden & Plant Memories from California

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Next week I will be leaving for California. In anticipation of this exciting trip to plant places like Annie’s Annuals and the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, I have made a recap of some of my previous trips. A lot is missing—and it isn’t fair and balanced blogging—but it has some bits and pieces of the California I have come to know.
It all begins with me in a hammock. Sure, I’d been to California many times by the time this photo was taken, but looking through my old photo albums, it wasn’t until this trip that plant and garden photos begin appearing everywhere. (I had been surrounded by gardens all my life but I had completely taken them for granted.)
During this trip, I’d gone to Los Angeles for PhD program interviews at UCLA and UC Irvine, but upon my return home, everything had started to change, and my life’s direction changed too as so often occurs.
Somewhere near Altadena—I think. It was the home of my good friend David’s boss and the guy was a landscaper. Can you tell?

The Getty Center experience during that trip really opened my eyes and was transformative in terms of my development. Looking at plants as art was something that excited me after years of dark rooms and images of old paintings from the art history department’s slide library. It is difficult for me to explain even now, after all these years, what happened that day at the Getty, but in a way, the easiest thing to say is that I  think I woke up to something.

Garden designed by Robert Irwin at the Getty Center, Los Angeles.
Garden designed by Robert Irwin at the Getty Center, Los Angeles.
*****

I went home after that trip and began dating my husband. Later that year, we travelled back to California to meet his family. I’d never really thought a lot about where the famous horticulturist Luther Burbank had lived and I was so excited when we visited his home and garden. My father-in-law has always supported my interest in pruning and grafting, and I like to talk about these old times like Burbank because he inspired many of the older folks who mentored me as a junior gardener. (More on him when I revisit the lilac lady’s house in a few weeks when I am back home.)

*****

A few years later our nieces went to California to see what was so exciting. We had a really fun trip and I cherish those memories now even if they teased me about all of the gardens. Maybe that was because our first garden stop was a bit odd and it challenged them to reconsider their own preconceived definition of the word GARDEN. Cornerstone, located near the town of Sonoma, is essentially a garden full of art galleries that just happen to be gardens. There is a café and shopping too, but my nieces had already come to expect those two things from public gardens. (How quickly they learn these things!)

The famous blue tree will be taken down this weekend on the first day of spring. I am so sad we will be missing the opportunity to take one of these little ornaments home with us, but oh well! (This is the cover of their first catalog.)
The experience of standing in this landscape was very awkward. We all felt like we should feel comfortable but the falseness and unnaturalness of these objects really heightened our awareness to the point we actually considered and recognized the importance of our perspective in the environment and how much this necessitated our interaction with it.   What is it without us?
Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’.
Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ and a teen who is not quite sure if she likes it much while her pre-teen sister looks on. They had so many puzzled faces while we were there that day.
I was still working at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House so of course we had to stop at the Marin County Civic Center. When I asked my husband if he’d ever been there, he told me that he had been inside once as a teen because he had to go to traffic court for a ticket. He described the courtroom as being like something our of Star Trek. My husband is funny.
The girls sitting on the patio on the top floor of the Marin County Civic Center. It was really hot and we were all getting so tired. I feel bad I didn’t take more pictures.
I love how nicely the inexpensive pavers blend in with the grass. This is a great way to get that modern look and it can still be family friendly without it being overtly so.

We also snuck over to Alcatraz during that vacation and I was so excited to show the gardens to all of them. I wish I could volunteer and help with their preservation, but for now, the gardens of Alcatraz are in safe hands.

We also took the bus to Golden Gate Park and we visited many different sites.
The moon bridge in the Japanese Garden at Golden Gate Park.
*****
The next trip was with our youngest niece and the girls’ neighbor friend who is like a sister to them both. Only we three ladies travelled home together along Highway 101 after dropping Uncle P off at the vineyard.
These are images of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens near Fort Bragg. These should be native plants, but I cannot identify them.
The little yellow flowers here should be a short form of a poppy but I am not sure which one this is.
Back at home, I unpacked these nice cones for front porch decor. We’d picked them up in Kelseyville, not far from the vineyard. These are from the Gray Pine (Pinus sabiniana) a tree endemic to California. Though not the largest pinecone, their cones can grow up to 14 inches long and they contain edible pine nuts. The largest pinecones come from the Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) and both of these trees coexist a bit together near the Sierras.
*****
During my last trip, we drove through Lake County on our way from the airport and I took in more of the plant life from the passenger’s seat in the car. There are plenty of Gray Pines everywhere in the hills intermixed with gorgeous mature Manzanita shrubs (Arctostaphylos). I have no idea what kind these are on this hillside—since there are around 90 or so different types in California alone—but they are a sight to see. They almost appear to resemble a tree’s root system floating in the air. (Be sure to click on the link to read about the rare Manzanitas in the San Francisco area. Amazing stuff!)
The first time I saw Lake County I was reminded of the photography of Ansel Adams. Much of the Sierra foothills looks similar too due to elevation.
Back at the vineyard, this is the olive orchard. The trees are much bigger now and they are producing well.
My father-in-law’s olive orchard in Kelseyville, California.

After San Diego and Yosemite we visited Sacramento on our way back to Oregon for the winter. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are living near there now and it is always nice to see them. We arrived a bit early and we parked by this incredibly mature palm tree in the historic downtown area. Imagine my surprise when I saw these dandelions growing ON the trunk of the tree! California is a crazy fun plant place.

At my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s home they had a Buddha’s hand lemon tree growing in this wine barrel. At the time, they were still working on the new landscaping and pool and it had not yet been planted. I cannot wait to see next week how the tree looks now!

I’ve never understood why lemons get such a bad rap. Making lemonade out of lemons? Bitter and sour are important and yummy if you know what to do with them both.
Have a great weekend and go play in the garden if you can!!!