Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 679
‘‘The Underground Gardens’’ begins with a short biography of Baldasare Forestiere, a thirty-twoyear- old Italian American immigrant who has survived by his digging skills, which he learned in his father’s Italian orchards and which he honed through working as a laborer in American cities. It is the summer of 1905, and Baldasare has purchased seventy acres of central California land through the mail. He is optimistic about this real estate investment. Having heard about the lack of cold weather in California, he assumes that the land will be suited for growing his own vineyards.
Baldasare finds that, while the land never freezes, it is dry and nearly impenetrable, but this does not discourage him. First, he buys the necessary materials and builds himself a small shanty. Then, he uses his agricultural knowledge to find water and dig a well. He plants some seeds, but the hard California land is not fertile enough to produce much. He starts working for another farmer to replenish his savings, and just as he is getting depressed that he will never achieve his dream, he meets Ariadne Siagris, the young niece of a Greek drugstore owner, and falls instantly in love.
Baldasare finds new inspiration, which motivates him to work toward a new dream—marriage to Ariadne. Rain leaks into his flimsy shanty that night, so he digs a cavern the next day, thinking that it will someday be the cellar for the house in which he and Ariadne will live. Yet, as the rain returns, Baldasare moves all of his possessions into the cellar, and begins to fashion an underground house, including a stove and storage shelves. Since there is little laboring work that winter, Baldasare continues adding to his underground residence, digging out hallways and rooms.
His one indulgence is his weekly hamburger at Siagris’ Drugstore, where he strikes up an acquaintance with Ariadne. Baldasare observes that Ariadne is not very smart at some tasks, is rapidly putting on weight, and has whiskers on her chin and red blotches on her skin, among other imperfections— but these traits only make Baldasare love her more. For two years, Baldasare continues the pattern of working for other men to make money, digging out his underground house in his free time, and making his weekly visit to see Ariadne. She begins to show interest in Baldasare, especially when he tells her about his spacious twelve-room home. Baldasare finally works up the nerve to ask Ariadne to come see his home, and she accepts.
When he walks to town to pick her up, however, Ariadne is shocked that Baldasare has not come in a carriage, especially since it is particularly hot that day, and she refuses to go with him. The following week, Baldasare rents a cabriolet, and they travel to his underground residence, but Ariadne has been expecting a normal, aboveground house, and refuses to go underground with him. She is furious with Baldasare, and, three days later, Baldasare hears that Ariadne has gotten engaged to another man. Baldasare refuses to give up, however, believing that if he can demonstrate the strength of his love to Ariadne, she will come and see his underground palace and will be interested in him again. In an attempt to get her attention, Baldasare sneaks to the lot behind the drugstore one night and begins digging a heart-shaped hole in the ground underneath Ariadne’s window. Although Mr. Siagris and the sheriff try to stop Baldasare, he continues digging until the next evening, when Ariadne’s new fiancé and one of his friends beat Baldasare badly.
A week after being released from the hospital, Baldasare gets a new inspiration, which comes to him in a flash. He dreams of Baldasare Forestiere’s Underground Gardens, a unique set of complex caverns that he envisions spanning the entire area of his seventy-acre plot of land, and which will include fish ponds, a restaurant, a gift shop, and other aspects designed to attract tourists. Although he is still sore from his beating, he begins to dig, intent on achieving this latest dream.