How Baldassare Forestiere Saved My Day

A few months ago my daughter, Ella, came home from school insisting on seeing this place in Fresno where a man was “tricked” (her words) into buying some land on which to grow citrus, and then when he got there, found the land couldn’t be used for this purpose.

Instead of giving up, he ended up farming underground. With skepticism, I did some googling and found that the place she described was not only real, but was also an actual museum where you could take tours. I promised I’d take her before the summer was over.

Fast-forward to now — to today — and said daughter has been sick for two days with a high fever. We’ve been sequestered away in Lake Tahoe (I never even saw the lake) and drove through Fresno today to Three Rivers, planning on stopping at Forestier Gardens on the way.

We got out of the car, sat under a beautiful grape arbor, and waited for a tour guide. Unfortunately, Ella felt worse and worse, and we couldn’t go on the tour after all. Instead, I took a picture of the sign, climbed back in the car, and continued on.

Isn’t this parenting? Plan A almost never goes as imagined, and instead we go with B, C, D…. or maybe that is just life in general. Suddenly I realized how extraordinary this man, Baldassare Forestiere really was. Just imagine what it would have been like to come to California from Italy to grow citrus, only to find that there was no way fruit could grow on the land you’d already bought.

Rather than completely panic (although I’m sure he had a moment…) he used his imagination and a lot of hard work to create an amazing underground garden and living space. He was able to grow lemons, grapefruit, kumquats, ponderosa,  grapes, dates, loquats, oranges, and carob. Have I seen it? Not yet… but I did stand on the land feeling disappointed, and that prompted me to imagine him standing there, on the sedimentary rock that made growing “impossible,” and marvel at what he had done.

It also makes me think about the act of writing — about how we start writing with little idea of where we are going, hoping to make something extraordinary from it, and end up somewhere we may have never imagined.

I’ll be back one day to see Baldassare Forestiere’s creation, and now I get to look forward to it (and the long drive back) just a little longer!

Link to Forestiere Gardens Website

Link to Marsha De La O’s gorgeous poem “Under the Lemon Tree”



  1. Very like my own grandparents, who bought farmland in Rosedale sight unseen, and immigrated here from a England at the end of the 19th century, only to discover they had the land – but no water rights! (Coming from England, who even knew there was such a thing as “water rights”?!! Didn’t water just come, freely and copiously, from the heavens?,,)


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