The Underground Gardens are the life-long devotion and hobby of Baldassare Forestiere (1879-1946), a Siciliani mmigrant who came to America in 1901 to escape the
iron rule of his wealthy father and pursue his own
dreams. The Gardens are a subterranean complex of
patios, grottos, and garden courts interconnecting with
passageways that encircle the living quarters of the self-
taught artist and builder who sought to escape the brutal
heat of Fresno summers.
Forestiere patterned his underground world after the
ancient catacombs, which he so admired as a boy.
Arches and passageways dominate the underground
landscape while the stonework provides stability and
beauty. But unlike the dark catacombs that protected the
remnants of the lifeless, Forestiere designed well-lit
courtyards and grottos to bring forth the radiance and
vitality of life.
No plans were put on paper; each room and
passageway originated in Forestiere’s mind as he
worked. With the simple tools of a farmer—a pick, a
shovel, and a wheelbarrow—the young immigrant dug,
chipped, and carved the unforgiving hardpan land for 40
years (1906-1946) in his spare time. By the time he was
44 years-old, he had excavated and planted over 10
But the humble immigrant’s genius did not stop there.
Incredibly, Forestiere planted multiple varieties of fruit-
bearing plants at different underground levels. Oranges,
lemons, grapefruits—many on a single tree—as well as
more unusual varieties like kumquat, loquat, jujube,
strawberry, quince, and dates could be easily plucked
from the surface by simply bending down. Wine and
table grapes also grace this sanctuary, and dangle
lusciously in great clumps every-where---truly an oasis in
a modern-day desert of pavement.
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