Worms and Flowers

Underground Gardens

Posted in Public Gardens by Lzyjo on May 18, 2009

Underneath a commonplace lot in a Fresno, CA mixed-use neighborhood is  the Forestiere Underground Gardens a subterranean oasis hand-hewn, shortly after the turn of the century, by Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere in the dry California Central Valley. The ten-acre complex is made up of over one hundred chambers, including patios, grottos, and living areas all connected by passageways.

The complex was built by hand, room by room, without a plan, with the most rudimentary tools, a pick, shovel, wheelbarrow and mule team.

The story is that Forestiere left Sicily to escape his wealthy and iron-willed father. In America Forestiere worked as a digger in the construction of both the New York and Boston subway systems. Forestiere used this practical knowledge of engineering in the design of his underground villa. The lowest levels of his complex are used for drainage, passages of varying width control the air flow.

Forestiere created the underground villa, in part, to escape the brutal semi-arid heat. The subterranean design creates a cool environment in the summer and a warmer environment in the winter, especially when combined with shade-producing vines and plants he used for “facade greening.”

The gardens include mini orchards at ground level and many types of citrus, loquat, jujubu, almonds, figs, and numerous types of grapes. Forestiere grew some of the plants in planters within the rooms through sky lights. Many of the trees are sixty to ninety years old and still producing fruit.

I think there is something to be learned from this achievement, which was almost certainly ahead of its time. Forestiere created an ingenious home tailored to the climate he was living made almost entirely of nothing. He was even concerned with passive energy for heating and cooling. Most of all, he was self-taught, like many of the greatest minds in history.

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8 Responses

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  1. ourfriendben said, on May 18, 2009 at 7:57 AM

    Good grief, lzyjo! I’d never heard of this. Wow!!! Talk about ahead of his time. Green architects, listen up!

  2. Lzyjo said, on May 18, 2009 at 8:10 AM

    Aye, They should. I was astonished as I read about it the first time. I stumbled across it from a link on the Coast to Coast AM website. What the heck? An underground garden!?!?!?

  3. mcl said, on May 18, 2009 at 8:53 AM

    I’m glad I took the time to read your post. I’d never heard of a forestierre. One of my favorite books is “Charleston Kedding..a History of Kitchen Gardening” by Susan Campbell. The things those folks did..like build a greenhouse over living grapes! The things in that book are not necessarily energy efficient but they certainly did try to alter their environment so they could grow non-native and out of season. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Lzyjo said, on May 18, 2009 at 10:48 AM

    That book sounds very interesting. Will have to check it out. Glad you liked the post. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  5. Jen said, on May 18, 2009 at 12:44 PM

    Hmmm, Italian, fruit trees, grottos, gardens — they should have a restaurant there! I’ll have to remember this in case I ever make it back to CA.

  6. Lzyjo said, on May 18, 2009 at 1:41 PM

    I think you may have hit on something Jen. I see an unexploited profit center! It’s very intriguing. I find it hard to image what it might be like under the ground.

  7. Gail said, on May 18, 2009 at 4:20 PM

    There are folks way ahead of their time or maybe totally in sync with the universe. gail

  8. Lzyjo said, on May 19, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    You are are absolutely right,Gail. I just hope they aren’t persecuted by the age they are living in.


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