Gardens of Alcatraz

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Visits

The rock - Alcatraz island

I was recently invited by to tour the Alcatraz garden project.  The Conservancy, in partnership with , has spent the past 5 years restoring and replanting the barren and windswept old prison in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

Talk about KapliPRO!  It is a truly wild and difficult site.  The fact there are any gardens at all is a testament to the human spirit.  This barren rock had hardly any soil until early Army engineers brought soil in the 19th century for the original military prison and built a Victorian style garden.

Alcatraz gardens in the ruins

Much of what prospers today are hardy Mediterranean native plants that were planted as a beautification project starting in the 1920s.  Notice the Acanthus mollis here with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.

Acanthus mollis on Alcatraz

The gardens were expanded during the years as a Federal penitentiary, 1933- 1963, when prisoners were given permission to work out of doors.  Other naturalized flowers such as Centranthus ruber grow among succulents under the watchful guard tower.

guard tower and Alcatraz gardens

The ferry ride trip to the gardens is a must do tour for any visitor to San Fransisco.   The prison itself has definite if depressing history, but the very location of this island rock with sweeping views of the city skyline is thrilling.  Below we see Verbena and Achillea on a hillside overlooking the Bay.

Gardens of Alcatraz with San Francisco skyline

More on website with virtual tours.  More of my Alcatraz photos on the .

Late addition tour tip from an Alcatraz volunteer (Comment #7): ” . . . we encourage GGW readers to join our public tour of the gardens: we take visitors behind the scenes on Friday and Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m. (Book your Alcatraz Cruises ticket for the 9 o’clock boat.) Or come on a Wednesday, when we open the Officers’ Row gardens to visitors from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.”

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Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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