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…

Driving to Silverton

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The drive from Portland to Silverton has always been beautiful, but during this time of the year, it is especially lovely. One of the reasons why I was so excited to drive down there today to deliver a case of wine for a fundraiser at the Gordon House was because I suspected that the flower fields would be in bloom. I was so happy that my hunch was correct!

This was the first field we saw before our visit with my former boss. It is just before you enter Silverton if you are entering the town by way of State Highway 213 from Interstate-205. (This road passes through Molalla and a few other small towns. The most unusual of which is the tiny town of Liberal, Oregon.)

These two fields were ones my foster respite and I saw on the way home by way of State Highway 214. They are just outside of the town of Mt Angel if you are headed back west toward the town of Woodburn or Interstate-5. The poppies were not fully blooming, but it was still a sight to see.
Silver Falls Seed grows these flowers for seed. Each year I order from them online and I can assure you that they have quality seed. It is one of the few ways that I do truly buy local when I am able. You can see why I support their business, as do others in their community.
Once we were in Silverton, after a quick stop at Roth’s Grocery Store, we drove over to meet with Molly at the Gordon House in The Oregon Garden. The house museum is separate from the garden and the resort but it works as an additional attraction to the area. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was saved from destruction almost a decade ago when the property and home were purchased by homeowners who’d intended for it to become a teardown. It is the only structure Frank Lloyd Wright designed in Oregon and I used to work there part-time.
During this trip I didn’t take many pictures of the house, but this is one view of it. It is the most amazing thing to photograph though and every angle is different. It really is amazing.
This is a remnant of one of the many plants I planted there. It it a lovely Penstemon.
My foster weekender took this photo of the red-twig dogwoods berries.
Mimulus cardinalis is one of my favorites and I believe I may have planted this one.
Here is the view from the entrance as we left. It was a lovely day to deliver a case of wine, and it was fun to introduce a part-time foster child to beautiful architecture. The place was calming for both of us, and we really enjoyed the drive.
If you would like more information about the Gordon House, you can visit their Web site: