Alcatraz never seemed far from view when I was in San Francisco last autumn, peeking between tall buildings or dominating the skyline from the coast. We did the tourist trip out to the island (hint: a summery dress and the SF wind do not a dignified boat trip make) and I wondered; will people, one day, glorify the crazed killers of our century the way they do Al Capone? Daring escapes and dingy cells aside, my favourite bit of the island was the gardens. Alcatraz really was ‘the rock’ before people first arrived, but imported soil and plants during its first occupation as an army base in the mid 1800s began to transform the rock into a garden. It’s a perfect example of how plant cover encourages the establishment of further plant growth by breaking up rocks with their roots and increasing soil nutrients through leaf litter. With the abandonment of Alcatraz in the 1960s the formal structure of the gardens may have fallen into disrepair, but imported plants continue to flourish all over the island, alongside birds and other wildlife.
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