Disclaimer- We were told by our tour guide that we could take photos of the gardens for personal use only. Well, to me this is very personal. These are photos of where my grandmother lived when I was a young child and where I spent many happy hours playing and exploring. I have no commercial use for the photos and do not intend to sell them or even give them away. I just want to share my childhood with you. And if you are anywhere near the Fresno, CA area, I would encourage you to stop and see the gardens for yourself.
The Underground Gardens
Gran called them “the caves”. She’d often start a sentence with “do you remember when we lived at the caves and…” Yes, yes, yes, I do.
As far as I can determine, she lived above the caves from 1951-1954 and then moved to another house on the far corner of the property (80 acres). She must have lived there until around 1960 because then we moved into her house in 1961 and lived there for a year. I understand that the family rented the house for several years after Baldasare’s death in order to keep up the expense of the gardens. My grandfather lovingly cared for the plants and taught me a lot about gardening. The ranch house on the other part of the property belonged to Mr. Forestiere’s brother-in-law, Jack.
I have fond memories of the caves. Most of them must be from the last years Gran was there, because I would have only been three or four years old. But I clearly remember staying with her- I remember her admonitions about the danger of the skylight holes in the ground. One of their puppies fell to his death in the hole nearest the house. I remember sitting in the kitchen eating oatmeal while Gran and Granddad argued loudly about something. I remember the smell of the damp clay, and the delightful way the sunlight played across the walls and tunnels. I was never afraid in the tunnels. It was a playground few children ever experienced and I loved it. I also visited it again many times after Gran moved to the ranch.
The ranch house that Gran, and later our family lived in had many of the same features as the caves. It had a huge patio with rock sides. It had a wine cellar and bread oven. It had trees and gardens and vines and plants of all kinds. It had an irrigation ditch, lined with rock, that wound around the property. There was a tunnel under the barn that lead to a cavern under the peach orchard. I wrote about the ranch several years ago and will add that as a page in the left column (extra stories).
Baldasare must have been a very patient man to have worked so hard and long on his dream. He carved out his home and gardens twenty feet below ground with simple hand tools, and created his fantasy with rocks and cement and scrounged materials. He ended up with 55 rooms, although most are closed or being restored. Only about 4 acres of the original 10 remain. And the fact that his trees have survived for so many years is a testament to his gardening skills. The tour guide told us that only one tree has died since 1906.
Going back to the gardens was a joyous experience. I’m so happy that the family has managed to restore and reopen them.
If you wish to read more about the gardens here are the links. And don't forget to look at my photo album!