The hidden gardens of Alcatraz: secret oasis amongst desolation

In a special series for This Morning, Diarmuid Gavin has been travelling the world in search of the world’s most beautiful hidden gardens.

His latest journey took him all the way to San Francisco, where infamous prison Alcatraz once sat.

The brutal maximum security prison that incarcerated the likes of Al Capone and George Barnes, better known as Machine Gun Kelly, and is still a foreboding sight on Alcatraz Island today, 50 years after it closed down.

Talking wasn’t permitted and prisoners spent up to 23 hours a day in their cells, with restrictive diets enforced upon those who broke the rules, with the focus was on punishment, not rehabilitation.

But outside the walls of the baron building that once housed some of America’s most notorious criminals, lay a hidden oasis.

The prison gardens were tended by those who had been afforded gardening duties for good behaviour, with Elliott Michener, who had been imprisoned for 30 years for counterfeiting, one of the most prolific gardeners there.

He spent eight years of his life outside, transforming the hillside and cliffs into a sea of colour.

Shelagh Fritz, of the garden conservancy at Alcatraz, explained: “The hillside slopes pretty drastically downwards and he created terraces, building walls and mending soil with compost made from kitchen scraps.”

Elliott was so in love with his garden that when he was transferred to another prison, he wrote a letter begging to return to Alcatraz so he could be reunited with it.

But after the jail closed in 1963, the gardens were abandoned and forgotten.

Now Shelagh and her team of 40 volunteers have managed to reawaken the magic of the garden, working tirelessly to bring plants back to life.

Check out the video above to see how they have transformed the space once again, as well as seeing an interview with a woman who was born and raised on Alcatraz Island.

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