Posted tagged ‘polarizing filter’

A Visit to the Gardens of Alcatraz

October 5, 2012

In mid-September, I headed to the Bay Area to attend the annual APLD conference, which took us to an impressive number of gardens and made me wish I could grow some of the plants I saw. Before the conference began, however, I spent a couple of days visiting my son, who has just moved to San Francisco to work. One morning, I got up early and took the ferry over to Alcatraz Island. Unlike most tourists, however, I never set foot in any of the prison buildings. I was there to see the Gardens of Alcatraz.

As some of you may already know, Alcatraz served as a maximum security federal prison from 1933 to 1963, when it was closed for budgetary reasons. (Prior to 1933, it was a military prison, dating from the late 1800’s.)

Alcatraz Island

Seen from the San Francisco Bay in the early morning, Alcatraz’s appearance is more than a little foreboding.

Although its nickname is “The Rock,” from early in its history, the officers’ families and later the inmates sought to soften its forbidding slopes and surfaces by planting flowers. When the Bureau of Prisons tore down two homes that had previously been occupied by these families, their foundations were converted to flower gardens tended by families and inmates.

Gardens of Alcatraz, Officers' Row area, The Garden Conservancy

An area of the old Officers Row gardens, open to the public only through the tours offered by the Garden Conservancy two mornings a week.

Garden Conservancy, Alcatraz Gardens, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Another section of the gardens in the old Officers’ Row area.

In 1986, the prison became a National Historic Landmark, but it wasn’t until 2003 that The Garden Conservancy began partnering with the National Parks Service  and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to clear away over 20 years’ worth of neglect of the garden areas. Today, Garden Conservancy volunteers, working through the NPS, lead fascinating and informative free tours ranging over much of the island on Friday and Sunday mornings. My two guides, both first-rate in terms of their knowledge of Alcatraz’s history as well as that of the gardens, met a group of us on the 9:10 a.m. ferry on Sunday morning and soon we were off.

Alcatraz Gardens, Garden Conservancy

Monica Beary (left) and Corny Foster (right) await us. Steps to climb? There were lots.

I was surprised to see plants like old roses,  fuschias and geraniums (as well as succulents) in profusion. Our volunteers explained that these were “survivor” plants that had been discovered in many locations when the GC’s restoration work began. The plants introduced by the inmates and families were exotics; the climate (Sunset Zone 17) is mild and Mediterranean in nature.

Alcatraz Gardens, Garden Conservancy, pelargoniums

Perennial geraniums in the Officers’ Row area, near the greenhouse.

Echium candicans, Alcatraz Gardens

Echium candicans (Pride of Madeira), a North African native, grows in the Gardens of Alcatraz. It’s a favorite of hummingbirds.

Almost everywhere, the view out to the Bay reminds visitors how isolated and grim “The Rock” would be without these gardens to soften it.

Garden Conservancy, Gardens of Alcatraz, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Succulents and roses frame a view of the Bay.

Garden Conservancy, Alcatraz Gardens

An Agave americana in flower on the edge of the island.

At the end of our tour, we took in views of the west end sloped areas of the island – the only gardens that most prisoners could see.

Alcatraz Gardens, The Garden Conservancy, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Today these areas are planted heavily in succulents interspersed with other plants, such as Gaura, which can tolerate the rocky soil and limited rainfall of the site.

If you’re fortunate enough to visit the Bay Area over a weekend, the Garden Conservancy offers tours of the Gardens of Alcatraz on Friday and Sunday mornings at 9:30. You’ll need to book the 9:10 ferry, nothing later, if you want to get there in time. And for more information on the gardens, check out Bay Nature’s online article and the Conservancy’s own website. Highly recommended!

A Knot Garden at Filoli

September 22, 2012

When I was in the Palo Alto area in June this year, I visited Filoli again (as well as the Elizabeth Gamble Garden). It was blazingly hot, and I wasn’t sure I would get any good images because of the sun and time of day. So today’s post is sort of an ode to my B&W circular polarizing filter, as you’ll see.

I knew Filoli’s gardens were formal, for the most part. But on my prior trip I hadn’t ventured far enough to discover its Knot Garden. Located just beyond its rose garden area, this was no ordinary knot garden. All the knot gardens I had seen before were clipped boxwood shapes. The one at Broughton Castle was clipped and had roses inside the spaces.

Broughton Castle, Ladies Garden, English gardens

The walled knot garden on the south side of the castle, known as the Ladies’ Garden, was established in the 1880s on the site of the sixteenth century kitchen. The fleur de lys beds are planted with Rose ‘Heritage’ and Rose ‘Gruss an Aachen’.

Oh so tidy and veddy British, don’t you think? Closer to home, I’ve seen a knot garden at the National Arboretum, with its edging plants somewhat more loosely clipped.

National Arboretum, Knot Garden

A knot garden in the National Arboretum in Washington, DC

So at Fioli, I was delighted to come across a knot garden composed of barberry, lavender, santolina, and little rosemary balls trimmed like lollipops – all viewed against a hedge of copper beech. Originally planted in 2007 by a local garden club or two, I’m not sure its shape is as tidy as the original plan, but I absolutely loved the sweeps of lavender, just coming into bloom.

Filoli Garden, lavender, knot garden

A rosemary standard is silhouetted against a copper beech hedge and provides a formal contrast to masses of Angustifolia lavandula ‘Hidcote.’

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any elevation when shooting so the shape of the knot garden isn’t that evident from my photos. And the sun glared off the barberry leaves mercilessly.

Filoli, knot garden

Here you can get an idea of the sweeps of barberry, santolina and other plants used in the Knot Garden at Filoli, with the copper beech hedge in the distance. The sun’s glare on the barberry leaves is very evident.

Filoli, knot garden

A more tightly-cropped view of the same scene, with three of the rosemary standards visible from left to right, ending at an opening in the hedge.

Finally, I brought out the polarizer for my 24-120mm lens, and used it to cut the glare on the barberry shrubs. Here’s the result.

Filoli, knot garden, circular polarizer

Now the barberry leaves, while a deeper red due to the polarizer’s effect, have lost their glare. And I like the line of the plantings as they lead your eye back to that little rosemary standard.

For more information on Filoli’s Knot Garden, click here. I have to say I didn’t experience the layout as two separate shapes as shown in this description, but gardens change over time. And I loved seeing the concept updated for a California climate!


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