Well, I made it out for another visit to the Alcatraz Gardens this week. What a stunningly gorgeous day it was, too! Temperatures were well into the 70’s, and I got to spend my hours gardening at the West Lawn, where I took all those fabulous succulent pix on my visit last week.
I was given a fun task this week that turned out to be somewhat challenging, yet very rewarding. I weeded some overgrown wild grasses off of a slope, and planted the slope with some geraniums. Doesn’t seem too difficult, but the site conditions added to the challenge. I suppose weeding really shouldn’t be so much fun, but when you’re doing it someplace like Alcatraz there really is nothing to complain about. I mean, sitting there in the sun, looking out over the bay and the SF skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge… Heaven!
The slope I was on is rubble. Lots of loose chips of rock that were piled up in banks under the wall of the prisoners’ recreation yard. The rock is loose and easily crumbles down the hill. In places, the grass I was tasked with removing was the very glue holding the slope together. Alcatraz, in its natural state, was completely, completely devoid of soil. Soil was brought over during the island’s period as an Army base specifically to absorb any incoming artillery fire, and it’s a precious commodity on The Rock today. On my little patch of rocky slope, there was little soil there, yet surprisingly plenty to support tons of plant life.
The slopes are well-suited to many succulent plants, and drought-tolerant plants from Mediterranean Climate zones around the world. Geraniums (Pelargonium species) tolerate the same conditions as so many of the succulent plants that thrive on the island. The West Lawn slopes are replete with many species of Aeonium, Agave, Echeveria, Cotyledon, Crassula, and members of Mesembryanthemaceae (the Ice Plants family), and have been growing in for a couple of years. A Pelargonium was already doing well on the slope, so this last patch of grass needed to be pulled and replaced with some cuttings that had been rooted from geraniums on other parts of the island. The gardens’ staff gardener, Shelagh, chose Pelargonium ‘Prince Bismarck’ for its magenta flowers that will nicely highlight the umber tones of the spines on the Agave below. (I think it’s Agave parryi truncata, but I’m not 100% on that.)
It was some tricky footing and took a bit of clever stacking of rubble to retain parts of the slope. One benefit of weeding on a steep slope is that you don’t have to bend over so far! Still, my legs got quite a workout from maintaining balance in the loose rubble. Plus, it took many trips up and down: had to empty my 5-gallon bucket many times into a larger tub, had to water everything in by bucket (the hose was in use elsewhere), and had to put chicken wire cages over each of the plants afterwards. I’ll explain.
The only real pest on the island is the Western Gull. This time of year the gulls are nesting, and the island hosts about 1500 of those nests. Young plants make great nesting material, as any gull will tell you. Chicken wire cages help the young plants get a foothold.
The other nifty thing that happened this visit is that I had an archaeological find! I mentioned that the slope I was working on was right below the prisoners’ recreation yard. The primary activity in the yard was handball, and handballs are the most prolific find on this part of the island. I was weeding away, and lo! a half of a handball! There are plenty of these already in the archives, but it was the first time I found one myself. It was very exciting to find something that a prisoner had accidentally lobbed over the wall over 50 years ago. Quite a thrill, despite their being fairly common still for the gardeners to find. Unfortunately, I set it down and lost track of it. It’ll give someone else a chance to experience the same thrill of the find as I got from it.
Can’t wait to see the results of my work over time. It’ll be exciting to see the geraniums grow and bloom in the future!
Followed by… Some gratuitous shots from my back-and-forth from the dock to the West Lawn…
Thanks for visiting boZannical Gardens!