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Alcatraz's Garden

Alcatraz garden
Photo caption
Agaves and geraniums spring to life again on the infamous Rock.

Al Capone, cellblocks, escapees—and a formal rose garden? Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay is known for many things, but impressive landscaping isn’t one of them. That’s now changing, thanks to a garden restoration effort.

Army officers and their wives stationed on the Rock in the early 1900s planted artichokes, South American succulents, and Victorian roses. Then wardens and inmates took over during the federal prison’s 29-year term. After the penitentiary shut down in 1963, gardening ceased and blackberry bushes grew wild. Now, the Garden Conservancy and the National Park Service are recreating the grounds’ former glory, and bulbs that were dormant for more than 40 years are blooming again.

You can pick up a brochure at the ferry landing or the officers’ row garden and take a self-guided tour to learn about the island’s 200 varieties of plants, including bright pink fuchsias, elegant purple irises, spiky agaves, and cascading ivy-leaf geraniums.

Ferries depart from Pier 33 in San Francisco every 30 minutes between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Check for schedules and fares.

Photography by Todd Hido

This article was first published in May 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.