Alcatraz: Plants had survived with no care for 40 years

It's called Officer's Row — a name that harkens back to its early 20th century military days. The garden that now occupies the space where three Victorian houses once stood is almost hidden.

In fact, you wouldn't know it existed unless you accidentally looked down as you walked up, up the long roadway leading to the cellblock.

Fuchsias dangle dainty purple-and-white flowers over pathways. Masses of pink Jupiter's beard have insinuated themselves in the crevices of the long- abandoned walls.

Geraniums, snapdragons, cheery orange gaillardias, sunny-yellow gazanias, and roses, yes, glorious roses in full bloom, bask in the sunlight and soak up the warmth from the surrounding walls. Officer's Row is secluded, quiet.

Gardener Shelagh Fritz takes a break, leans against the crumbling brick and looks out over the water toward the stunning San Francisco skyline.

It's hard to believe this garden is on Alcatraz, she says, and just below the cell house where many hardened criminals spent years of their sentences.

Fritz is "The Rock's" full-time gardener. She's part of a team composed of the Garden Conservancy, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service, working to restore the gardens of Alcatraz. Vintage photographs and historical records guide the way.

"You can't help but wonder what life was like, what prisoners thought, whether the beautiful gardens made any impression," she says as she snips spent flowers from the geraniums.

The towering, ominous cellblock dominates the view above Officer's Row. Its windows, perched high up on its walls, let in plenty of light for those imprisoned inside, but likely afforded the prisoners no view of the beauty just outside their walls.

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