Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for April, 2011

The Gardens at Alcatraz

I went to Alcatraz last week for the first time since a field trip in grade school. Wow, I should of gone sooner. It’s a fascinating spot and more than just a place to take out-of-town visitors.

The prison is of course iconic and there are great views of the Golden Gate and the rest of the bay, but also the island has some of the most historic gardens in California. They were started by the military in the 1850’s on soil brought over from Angel Island, and then various soldiers, jailers, and inmates expanded and maintained the gardens throughout the years as the island went from fort to military prison to federal prison. The gardens were abandoned when the prison was closed down and a lot of the island was swallowed up by weeds, but a lot of the tougher plants held on. In 2003 the Garden Conservancy took over the gardens and began restoring them. Many, many, many hours of volunteer labor have gone into them. Restoration seems to be about developing or preserving the dichotomies of Alcatraz: a prison garden full of escaped exotics, a weeded garden ruin, wild plants in one of the most human-built sites in California.

There are a ton of different building materials throughout the island, with various types of concrete, stone, and brick mixed and layered in funky ways reflecting the island’s transformations from fort to military prison to prison. Even in the calla lily photo there are two different types of stone. The brickwork in the photo below almost looks like a tapestry the way it is outlined by what were originally the corners of separate stone walls.

I’m not sure what plants are naturalized from before and which ones have been added by the Garden Conservancy. There’s an extensive website for the gardens, including a blog, with a lot of photos and information about the history of the gardens. Quite a few garden bloggers have visited the island; Saxon Holt at Gardening Gone Wild, Far out Flora, and Oakland Guerrilla Gardener are two of the ones I know about.

This hand-carved granite doorway was built when the prison was still a fort. In the upper corners are two pulleys from the original drawbridge door.

April Bloom Day

Unidentified Freesia

Happy tax and bloom day everyone. I was set up on our front porch yesterday, enjoying the garden and the weather while I went through our receipts, and it was actually quite pleasant. Our garden is in full spring mode, with almost all of our deciduous plants leafed out and most of the spring bloomers in bud or blooming. For some reason, my photos this month mostly show stray plants that ended up in our garden after they were leftover from installations. As a result I’m a little more vague about their identities than usual. For instance, the freesia is from some bulbs that were salvaged in the process of building a path. We put them in some pots to find out their colors. Orange!

Allium unifolium, Tellima grandiflora, Dicentra formosa

Allium unifolium we can identify, though they also end up in our yard as leftovers from installations. We have them in pots and in the ground. The ones in pots are all budding or blooming, while the ones in the ground are just starting to bud.

Unidentified Allium

I don’t remember what type of alliums these are. We forced them in some containers a few years ago and then I forgot about them while they were in the ground recharging. The digging of the skunks has moved them around the yard a bit, too, so it was a surprise to me when they bloomed in a patch of Sysirinchium.

Unidentified Orchid

Anita brought home this orchid after she divided my mom’s orchids several years ago. Not too bad.

Meadowfoam and Geranium Bill Wallis

Meadowfoam I planted on purpose. It’s one of our main spring bloomers, naturalized in several different parts of the garden.


Unidentified Babiana

We have a couple of different varieties of Babiana, in varying shades of purple and blue.

Cal Poppy

This Cal poppy is in the veggie garden where we’ve grown a few different strains over the years. It looks like it has Mahogany Red in its parentage. For a while I was going in a purist direction with our poppies, taking it down to just the coastal form in our outer garden, but now I’m glad I left some of the hybrids around the veggies. It’s good to be surprised when the flowers open.

My thanks as always to Carol for hosting bloom day. Click through to MayDreamsGardens to find links to over one hundred and fifty other blogs doing the same. I try to keep a record of everything blooming, but I haven’t compiled the list yet. I’ll add it tomorrow or Sunday. (more…)

The Tilden Plant Sale

Trillium ovatum

I don’t post about many garden events, but one of my favorites is coming up on Saturday, the native plant sale at Tilden. It’s their biggest event of the year with many great plants for sale, some of them quite hard to find. The rush to the Trilliums is the single most frenzied horticultural moment I know of. (Speaking of which, I don’t know if it has been my luck or some kind of bumper year for Trilliums, but I have seen more of them this spring than ever before. I’m curious if that has been anyone else’s experience as well.) The sale starts at 10AM, with people starting to line up about an hour beforehand.

Ready for Tomorrow

Wall Lighting

A little before we left for Belize I finished a project in Walnut Creek that I’d been working on for a while. No garden is ever truly finished and there are still a few things to do in this one — redoing the handrailing, painting the wall — but I’m not the one responsible for that phase so I get to call it done. Much of this project was done during the period of heavy winter rains in December and then there was a long delay while the light fixture for the wall was decided on and then fabricated. Landscape lighting generally gives more immediate gratification than any other aspect of landscaping, but we had a hard time finding the right fixture for this one. There are tons of lantern-style lights designed for eight-foot-high stuccoed walls, but not many for a three foot retaining wall of stone.

Some photos of lighting (which for some reason has attracted the biggest flurry of spam that I’ve seen in a long time) are below. (more…)

Watercolor Belize

We’re back. We had a great time in Belize. We were on a five acre island called Tobacco Caye for most of the time; our big accomplishment was going five days without putting on shoes or sandals. I have some photos of the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha on the mainland, but it’ll be a little while before I find time to post them. In the meantime, here is Anita’s watercolor of the place where we stayed. A couple of photos from Tobacco Caye are below. (more…)

You are currently browsing the DryStoneGarden blog archives for April, 2011.