As early as 1869, military inmates began tending the Gardens of Alcatraz. Many of these inmate gardeners had no horticulture experience, but with vocational training and donated plants, they were able to transform the barren rock into extensive planted terraces, including a rose garden and cutting gardens overflowing with brightly colored flowers.
When the military left the Island to the federal Bureau of Prisons in 1933, the tradition of inmate gardening continued. Mr. Freddie Reichel, the first secretary to Warden Johnston, wanted to maintain the beautiful gardens left by the military, but realized he could not do it alone. With permission from the warden, he recruited maximum-security inmates. The work was a privilege. Not only did it allow inmates to be out of their cells and away from the tension of the prison, but it also offered them a chance to create beauty in a forbidding environment.
Reichel recruited inmate gardeners who proved to be natural plantsmen. Under the watch of guard towers, the inmates carved the Island’s west side slopes into terraces and cultivated blooming gardens.
To learn about some of the inmate’s stories as Alcatraz gardeners, please click on the links below:
Elliott Michener – http://alcatrazgardens.org/elliott-michener.php
Richard Franseen – http://alcatrazgardens.org/richard-franseen.php
Albert Smith – http://alcatrazgardens.org/albert-smith.php
Visiting the Gardens at Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island is open to visitors every day year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Although there is not an entrance fee for the garden tour, there is a charge for the ferry service, supplied by Alcatraz Cruises.
The best time to visit the Gardens of Alcatraz is from January to September and especially in the spring. The gardens are open for viewing, however, all year round.
Docent-led tours of the Island gardens are available twice a week on Friday and Sunday mornings at 9:45AM, starting at the Alcatraz dock. Those interested should take the first or second ferry departure of the day from Pier 33. The tours lead guests through all the restored gardens, including those that are off limits to most visitors. Visitors also have access to Officers’ Row every Wednesday from 11:00AM to 2:00PM, when a docent is present to answer questions.
For more information and a self-guided tour, there is a brochure available at http://alcatrazgardens.org/pdf/AZ%20Garden_05_12.pdf.