Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fresno: Forestiere Gardens - Tales From The Underground

 Forestiere Gardens Grand Entrance

Sometimes you have to look beneath the surface to see beauty… literally. Such is the case when you enter Forestiere Gardens, a subterranean maze of tunnels, rooms, and courtyards built by Sicilian immigrant, Baldassare Forestiere. Located off Highway 99 in Fresno, the site is a worthwhile stop as you pass through Central California.

Baldassare Forestiere

It was the early 1900s when Baldassare Forestiere, then 22 years old, set out for America. Hoping to escape the shadows of his wealthy father, he wanted to pursue his independence and fulfill his dreams of building a citrus empire. Unfortunately, the land he purchased in California’s Central Valley was covered in solid, rock-hard topsoil, completely useless for agriculture. As it turns out, it’s what lies underneath that land that has earned Forestiere recognition worldwide. Summer temperatures often topped the triple digits in Fresno and made life miserable for Forestiere. Remembering the coolness of the underground cellars of his homeland, he decided to burrow through the hard clay underfoot and excavate a retreat from the heat. So successful was the project that he carved out a few more rooms in the cool underground to take refuge. Soon, he had a two-bedroom home, complete with kitchen and bath. Later, he experimented with the idea of growing shrubs, vines and trees underground and with the installation of elaborate passages and skylights he accomplished the task of growing a garden. For over 40 years the self-taught architect, builder and horticulturist continued to chip under the earth’s surface in his spare time, using only simple farming tools such as a pick, shovel and wheelbarrow. By the time he was 44 years old, his hobby had blossomed into a 10-acre complex of rooms, passageways and gardens.

Forestiere Gardens Central Patio Passageway

Baldassare Forestiere died in 1946 and the gardens are now a registered historic landmark. You can tour the site and see the fruits of his labor - oranges, kumquats and lemons - peeking through the ground’s surface from trees, some over 90 years old, planted 25 feet below. Guided tours last approximately 50 minutes; visit the Forestiere Gardens website for dates and times.

More information: Forestiere Underground Gardens
5021 W. Shaw Avenue, Fresno, CA 93722
Phone: 559-271-0734

1 comment:

  1. HI, Gayle, thanks for stopping by the strawberry cake! It really is delicious. You have a beautiful blog all about your fair state of CA. I've been a few times & really enjoyed my visits. Have been to Dana Point, LA, San Diego, and San Fran twice. Fun times!