“I kept no records of my failures, for I had many – the main thing was to assure some success by trying many things and holding on to the plants which had learned that life is worth holding on to even at its bitterest.” Fred Reichel, prisoner at Alcatraz and Warden’s Secretary, 1934-1941.
I agree with Fred. A plant that can survive the harshest conditions, is a plant I want in my garden. The Garden Conservancy spearheaded the effort to preserve the gardens on Alcatraz. As part of the Greater & Greener 2015: Innovative Parks, Vibrant Cities Conference in San Francisco, I went to Alcatraz to see the gardens. 40 years of neglect did not prevent some old roses, fig trees, bulbs and succulents from surviving.
The Greater&Greener group was fortunate to have a guide for the gardens. A permanent crease threatened to set in across when forehead, when our guide started to explain the effort to “preserve” the historic gardens of Alcatraz. California is in a drought. Alcatraz is a rock. It has no water. Even, if at one time the island had 50 roses on a terrace, Victorian cutting gardens composed of heliotropes, fuchsias, calla lilies, profusions of poppies; is this a reason to perpetuate unsustainable plants? The Garden Conservancy and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy have carefully examined old archival photographs. The rationale for re-creating these historic gardens is a concept gone awry. Alcatraz was carved by natural and human forces; it seems most fitting to let those forces shape it again in a new way.