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.