If we are all our own jailers and prisoners of our traits, then I am grateful for my introduction to the spade and the trowel, the seed and the spray can. They have given me a lasting interest in creativity.”Elliott Michener, Alcatraz inmate, 1941-1950
For more than a century, gardens were an important part of everyday life for officers, families, and prisoners confined to Alcatraz by sentence or duty. Many of the plants selected by these unheralded gardeners proved to be excellent choices for the harsh and barren environment, flourishing through the four decades of neglect that followed the prison’s closing.
Alcatraz’s current visitors experience an island that is alive with colorful plants gathered decades ago from around the world, and complemented by newly introduced plants. These historic gardens not only illustrate the importance of gardens to the human spirit, but also the ecological benefits and aesthetic possibilities of sustainable gardening.
In 2003, the Garden Conservancy and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy formed a partnership with the National Park Service to restore and maintain key gardens on Alcatraz. Through the Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project, the partner organizations preserve, rebuild, and maintain the gardens created by those who lived on the island during its military and prison eras, and interpret their history, horticulture, and cultural significance for visitors.