We truly felt like hometown tourists this past weekend on our visit to Forestiere Underground Garden. This absolutely one-of-a-kind place is so easy to overlook and even miss entirely driving on Shaw Avenue near Highway 99, but it is completely worth going to see! This subterranean home and garden is an amazing feat of human ingenuity as well as a very cool look at what can be done with hardpan. Throughout the tour I was reminded of my childhood in Madera Ranchos. Anytime my family tried to plant a tree or dig a hole to build a fence we were faced with the hard reality of hardpan. Imagining one man with a pick axe and shovel breaking though acre upon acre of hardpan and then using it to build this home is really remarkable. If only I’d have known as a kid, I could have requested an underground playhouse. 😉
Key Info for visiting:
– Summer schedule: Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
– After Labor Day schedule: Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (weather permitting).
– Park along Shaw Ave or the side street west of the Gardens.
– Tours start a couple times an hour. If you are going in the summer, I’d recommend a midmorning visit if you are going on a hot day. You want to feel the temperature difference as you venture into the lower levels, but there are times you are still in direct sunlight. The lowest area had the temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit and it was just over 100 outside.
– Bring or buy a water for the tour because the tour is long and warm.
We were shocked at how many people were already there to tour on a hot Saturday morning. Our group had about 15 people, just to give you an idea of how busy it is. It was also interesting that we were the only Fresnans in the group. There were a few others from the Central Valley, but for the most part, people were visiting from out-of-town.
We were so impressed with our fantastic tour guide that kept us all entertained and informed throughout the hour and a half tour. On that, it can get a little lengthy for young kids, but they might also love it! Kellan (5) was into it the entire tour. Bridget (3) became tired and disinterested about 45 minutes in, but she was a trooper and I just carried her the rest of the way.
The story of Baldassare Forestiere is so interesting and I will leave most of it for you to learn when you visit the Underground Gardens but here are a few tidbits that I think are the most important to understanding the history.
Around a century ago, Forestiere immigrated from Sicily with the hope of becoming a citrus farmer. He spent his entire life-savings to purchase this plot of land in Fresno, only to discover layer upon layer of hardpan on his land making his dream of farming seemingly impossible.
Through the years he worked as a day laborer and when he wasn’t on the job he was working on his land, putting it (and the hardpan) to use in creating the structure of his underground home. He eventually discovered ways to use the land, the limited good soil he found, and this unique house to grow citrus of all kinds as well as many other types of produce that faired well in the Valley.
He eventually made enough to be a full-time farmer and was able to spend more time expanding his underground home and garden. As his home grew and his skills improved he envisioned an underground resort for valley locals to come to keep cool. Over the course of forty years Baldassare expanded the home and garden into what is there today.
The combination of local history, the connection to our local challenges with climate and geology, and this example of determination and ingenuity really makes visiting this California State Landmark a must for anyone living in or visiting the Central Valley.
I was so inspired by this story of faith, commitment, and perseverance in this age of quick answers and quicker fixes. I was reminded to be grateful for what I have been given and work daily to be creative to make the most of it! Hopefully you will enjoy this tour as much as we did!
Oh, and one last tip! Be sure to ask about the bathroom. They won’t talk about it unless you ask! 😉
Finally, what would be a better ending to this day of local California history, than lunch at the quintessentially Californian burger joint, In ‘n’ Out which happens to be right across the street?