Monthly Archives: April 2013

It’s Glad Time

Most gardeners have a winter pastime of pouring over plant order catalogues, examining each plant and adding it to a wish list. Here in San Francisco, while we do not quite receive the same snowstorms as elsewhere, we do have long nights and look forward to spring.

 

I placed an order for heirloom Gladiolus from Old House Bulbs this past fall and they arrived this week! With their bright pink labels, they looked like bags of candy. I ordered a selection of bulbs that would have been available to gardeners before 1963. The federal prison closed in 1963, and so when choosing heirloom plants, we try to be as authentic as possible.

Bags of gladiolus. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Bags of gladiolus. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Gladiolus flowers were identified in a few historic

An inmate holding a bouquet of cut gladiolus. Photo courtesy of Joseph Simpson.

An inmate holding a bouquet of cut gladiolus. Photo courtesy of Joseph Simpson.

photographs from the 1940s and 1950s, in one photo an inmate is actually holding a whole armful of apricot sprays of flowers. Often, these bouquets were taken to the chapel to decorate the altar, or placed on the dock for resident families to come and take for their own homes.

 

Another photograph shows the blooms standing at the back of a bed in the Prisoner Gardens on the west side of the island. Maybe the inmates were able to order from a catalogue too? Or maybe a guard brought them back to the island to be planted. Not knowing how plants arrived on the island is part of the mystery of gardening on the Rock. At any rate, a great deal of effort was put into obtaining plants to provide beauty.

 

Gladiolus growing along the back of the flower garden in the Prisoner Gardens. Photo courtesy of Joseph Simpson.

Gladiolus growing along the back of the flower garden in the Prisoner Gardens. Photo courtesy of Joseph Simpson.

The gladiolus that I ordered have fun names – Friendship, Carolina Primrose, Dauntless, Bibi, Melodie, Contentment (probably not the best name for being on Alcatraz), Abyssinian (which appears in the Gardens of Alcatraz book), and Boone. These glads will be planted this coming week in the Rose Terrace in the raised bed in front of the greenhouse, where the photo of the inmate holding the cut gladiolus was taken.

 

Last year, our gladiolus had significant rust, so this year we will experiment with treating them with a fungicide and lifting them at the end of the growing season to store them for the winter.

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Pretty Friday

We finally had some rain this week! The light spring showers and fog have really helped the gardens. The gardens were beginning to dry out earlier than usual, even the ferns and moss were beginning to think spring was over.

 

Hearing the fog horn from the bridge, the buoy bell marking ‘little Alcatraz’, and all the seabirds this morning made it just a great day to be working in the Prisoner Gardens on the west side of the island. We also had our faithful crew of volunteers, and joining us this morning was a team from the San Francisco Recreation and Parks. We all worked together to cut back Chasmanthe floribunda on the terraces and admired the view. We cut back Chasmanthe while it is still green to make it easier to break down in our compost.

 

After the group had left, I had a chance to do a little more weeding and a few plants just caught my eye – especially this combination of the Heliotrope arborescens (cherry pie) with Osteospermum (African daisy). The purple centers of the osteospermum match the purple flowers of the heliotrope perfectly.

 

Osteospermum with Heliotrope. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Osteospermum with Heliotrope. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Last week we cut back

Polystichum munitum fronds unfolding. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Polystichum munitum fronds unfolding. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

the native sword ferns, Polystichum munitum and the new fronds are just coming up now. Seeing the new fronds unfurl is pretty cool and it is like an abstract garden art with their fuzzy coils, even each leaflet is curled up.

 

Finishing the day in the rose terrace, the sun was shining and the all the Homeria collina also known as Moraea collina (cape tulip) were in full bloom with the dutch bulb iris ‘Blue Sapphire’.

 

Homeria and dutch iris in the rose terrace. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Homeria and dutch iris in the rose terrace. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

The island is already beginning to be sold out a week in advance so I hope the lucky visitors who do have tickets for this weekend come along on our garden tours or at least walk through the gardens to see how pretty this prison island is.

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