Among the tens of thousands of acres growing citrus and grapes in the Central Valley, there is one lot, unlike any other.
Gardens inspired by Italy and fruits with Sicilian roots grow across the globe in Fresno, on busy Shaw Avenue. To find it, you have to go underground.
The first trees planted over a century ago still bear fruit today inside the Forestiere Underground Gardens.
In 1905, Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere moved to Fresno chasing the American dream. He bought a large piece of land with hopes of growing citrus, unaware it was filled with hard pan.
Against the odds and the heat, Forestiere started to dig. He found good soil and planted citrus trees underground. 40 years of grueling work resulted acres of fresh fruit and the place he called home. Along with courtyards, Forestiere’s underground home included bedrooms, a chapel, even an aquarium. There are three levels, the lowest about 25 feet underground.
Forestiere Underground Gardens Tour Services Manager Shera Rodrick says it can get up to 35 degrees cooler than temperature at ground level on the lowest floor. Along with citrus, Forestiere also grew fruit unique to the Valley.
“Being Sicilian, he did like his grapes as well, he did make his own wine,” Rodrick said. “We do have a few Mediterranean varieties, carob, Chinese date, an Italian pear tree, and pomegranates.”
The subterranean garden was limited in space so Forestiere grew several types of fruit on one tree, called grafting.
“He had an incredible mind,” Rodrick said. “While his original dream may not have come to fruition, he created something so much more memorable and it’s lasted for over 100 years.”
The garden is a California Historical Landmark and is still owned by the Forestiere family. It’s open for public tours, click here for information.