Fresno, California doesn't exactly attract a lot of visitors. It's between San Francisco and Los Angeles and it's an easy place to miss. But if you take the time to look, Fresno has something completely unexpected: a secret garden.
The Forestiere Gardens are actually subterranean and, most incredibly, built by one man.
Sicialian, Baldasare Forestiere, was born in 1879 to a wealthy father, but by age 20 uprooted and forged a new life for himself in America. He worked digging tunnels in New York and Boston and moved out to California, eventually settling in Fresno. He purchased 80 acres of land there where he hoped to start a farm.
That's where he ran into a big problem: the land wasn't able to be farmed. At least, not on the surface. Determined to make it work, Forestiere grabbed a pick, a wheelbarrow and a shovel and started digging. Below the inarable soil, he found a layer of damp-proof clay.
This started a lifelong devotion to his subterranean world. Forestiere built almost 100 rooms with passageways and courtyards, each with circular holes above to allow the plants, trees, sunlight, rain and fresh air in. The project spanned 40 years and 10 acres, all in his spare time.
Today, the garden still thrives with oranges, sweet purple grapes, exotic fruits and century old vines.
His living space was also subterranean and made for a great escape from the California heat in the days long before central air conditioning.
Although he'd never had formal training, Forestiere's engineering mimicked the building techniques of the Ancient Romans. Amazingly, he didn't even plan his catacomb-like structures on paper. He’d just dig and created them as he went along.
His descendants now run the Forestiere Historical Center, opening this fascinating underground world up to the public.
Credit: Forestiere Gardens