Alcatraz Gardeners

March 22nd, 2010. California

A flower whose name I don't know in front of the main cell block

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to move to San Francisco is that I want to be involved. I want to be a part of the community I live in, and my first step was to find volunteer opportunities. Nik and I gravitate to the parks, so I started by looking around the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy website. I came across The Gardens of Alcatraz, and was intrigued. We hadn’t been to the island known as the former home to Al Capone and many other well known criminals, and wondered why the gardens there were important. What could be so special about the grounds surrounding a high security US Penitentiary? Shouldn’t they be as sparse as possible?

I filled out the volunteer application, and the lead gardener quickly replied saying they would be happy to have me whenever I could make it. My next step was to check the weather for the next week. The volunteer gardeners go out every Wednesday and Friday morning, and Friday was supposed to be sunny and 70Ëš, so that would be my day!! I met the group at Pier 33 to catch the staff ferry to the island at 8:45am, half an hour before the first tourist boat. On the way over, I met the other gardeners, many of which had been coming to Alcatraz every week for 5 years or more, and I shyly told them I had never gardened a day in my life. That was fine with them because an extra pair of hands was always welcome.

When we arrived at the dock the staff and volunteers dispersed to various posts to prepare for the day. I tagged along with Monica, the garden docent for the day, and helped her prepare a bag for the tour she would give to the first round of tourists. We waited to one side of the dock as hundreds of travelers in shorts carrying cameras strolled past. A few did stop to anxiously wait with us while Monica began chatting about the gardens.

Monica leads the group through the gardens of Officers' Row

Once we were on our way, I trailed the group so that no one got lost, but made sure that I could hear everything as well. Monica gave a broad history of the island telling us how the military was actually the first occupant and that the gardens were developed during their stay. Several families were stationed here and they did quite a bit to soften “the Rock” with flower beds and green spaces. Now the Garden Conservancy is doing an amazing job bringing these back.

After the tour, we grabbed some tools and buckets then joined everyone on the northern slope to clear onions from the beds. For three more hours, we weeded while chatting and enjoying the amazing spring day. Occasionally, visitors would stop and ask questions or simply express their gratitude that we were there keeping everything beautiful. It was during this time that I was especially happy to be part of this. I was not just an observer, but actually part of keeping this national landmark the way it is. This is why I am here in San Francisco.


The oldest lighthouse in San Francisco

Seagulls pairing up with a view of the Bay Bridge

Concrete Arches

Outside the Recreation Yard

Sea Gull leaving the watch tower

Looking towards the sea

One of the old Military Buildings

The main cell block from the recreation yard

Water Tower

Playing where criminals once sat

Planning his escape

Uninterested in anything around her

The captive audience for the Audio Tour

United States Penitentiary

Cell on Michigan Ave


C-D Street

Laundry Room

The office



Looks like a great way to spend one day a week. I’m proud.
Love Ya,

hi jaime
i love all your pictures! I am also looking to be in a garden this spring/summer. i have a guess for that pink flower…hibiscus…although the leaves look like some sort of geranium. Im sure some of your fellow volunteers can tell you for sure.

maybe this happened a while ago, but i really like your new blog layout!

glad you are enjoying san fran. my husband and i have been in san diego for the past month and although i am originally from ohio, i can easily turn into a california girl!
take care

Hey — I’ve been reading your posts via a blogfeed so I only JUST realized you redesigned! Looks great, love the spinning states icon. One of these days I will get myself over to SF… not quite done with the Eastern Hemisphere yet tho… :)


Cindy, hibiscus does sound right….I really need to start asking more questions when I’m over there!

Annamatic, you better let us know if you head this way, and thanks for catching on with the states icon!

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