Lindi recalls, “I spent the first night here alone (with only a mattress tossed on the floor), the floor began moving as a sea or roaches came out for their midnight stroll. After the first night, everything got worse. Absolutely nothing worked.” Since that fateful first night, every inch of the property has been gone over. The roughly 6,000 square foot rambling ranch style-house had some wonderful features including a stone grotto-like shower in the master bedroom plus a water feature that cascades into a fish pond. However, the true majesty of this estate is what the Biggis have done with the grounds.
The end product of house and grounds is as free spirited as Lindi. “The whole place is designed for human comfort and bird pleasure. It is perfectly imperfect and we love it.”
The Biggis needed the room, as Lindi has a tough time being without her extended family. Yes, children, grandchildren and friends surround the Biggis; but Lindi is passionate about “her critters.” The thirty-something birds residing in this wonderland include conures, macaws, Turacos, toucans and Zeus and Mortisha, the pair of endangered Goliath Black Palm cockatoos. Then there are the four dogs -Luigi, GG & BG Biggi, Annie, the fish and the newly arrived flamingos- known as the Legos.
Today, Geno Biggi surveys his estate with pride and says, “If you can’t enjoy this place, you can’t enjoy anything.” Geno thought if they bought a place in the desert, Lindi wouldn’t feel compelled to take all birds and dogs with her at all times. “I kind of thought one bird and one dog would be nice.” Geno Biggi is the owner of Beaverton Foods, producers of specialty mustard and horseradish, including Beaver, Inglehoffer, Old Spice and Napa Valley brands. Geno spends about 7 months in Oregon and the rest of the time in Palm Desert.
He readily admits to not sharing Lindi’s great passion for birds… he will not clean up after them, either. He exhibits great patience with the time Lindi devotes to the care of the birds but readily admits, “I enjoy watching Lindi enjoy.”
Let the building begin:
As anyone who knows Lindi Biggi will confirm, once she makes up her mind, that’s pretty much it. She had done her research, thrown out the architect’s plans, given Bass the okay to go forward … and left for South America.
While Lindi visited the original rainforest, Bass, his crew and Biggi property manager, Jim Kitch created the water element. When Lindi returned, the waterfall was built but only three feet high. Realizing that this element could not be viewed throughout the estate, the waterfall was enhanced. “We kept the olive tree, the palm trees and whatever we could, Bass recalled. “We had to remove the date palms and dig out the root system so the water feature didn’t settle. Lindi wanted a natural look and something that was low maintenance.”
“Trying to achieve the natural lagoon appearance, no ceramic or any other shiny surface was used. Everything used to construct the pool and lagoonis: concrete, real stone, fake stone, Pebbletec or a combination thereof. A brass Rhino stands in the lagoon with a life size lion perched on the rock watching a crocodile approaching the lagoon, all being observed by a monkey hanging in the tree,” Lindi reported.
Thatched huts surround the property to house many of the avian residents. The summer’s heat is mitigated for the occupants of the huts with misters. Two toucans share a lengthy enclosure, allowing them to fly in safety. For the comfort of some of Lindi’s flock, a former guesthouse was converted to “The Bird Room.”
It was a tennis court
Before the Biggis purchased their desert retreat in 1994, Lindi thought they would wind up in San Diego, mainly because of her love of water. “Right,” Lindi recalls, we were also going to buy a condo. Secretly, I think Geno thought if we had a small place, I would give up some of my pets.” Clearly, that will never happen! While Geno and Lindi enjoyed having the rare grass tennis court in their desert home’s backyard, they both admit that fewer and fewer people were using it. The Biggis identify a major improvement to the property each year and Lindi had her eye on the tennis court.
While many people dare to dream, Lindi Biggi dreams, and then turns visions into reality. “The main characters in my dream were the flamingoes. However, the African Turacos and the African Crown Crane were part of the image from Africa.”
Tom Bass recalls receiving a call from Lindi in mid-2002. “I want to build a pond and have fish and flamingoes and I want to put it where the tennis court is.” That, Bass recalls was the beginning of a most ambitious project. There were no architectural drawings and no official plans. “We kind of flew by the seat or our pants,” Lindi recalls. In the heat of the desert summer, Lindi would convene a meeting of the staff every morning at 5:30 am. “At first we mapped things out with ropes and hoses. It wasn’t unusual for us to move things three or four times.”
Michael Hamilton is responsible for the design and construction of the aviary, gazebo, docks and African Village. “It was a good team and everybody was easy to work with,” Hamilton recalls. Randy Myers of Randy G. Myers nursery said, “I was called to find some clean palms for the island. “From there, it just evolved into us doing the landscaping.” Myers and his partner found over 40 varieties of plants, including at least 7 varieties of aloe, the African fever tree and the mesquite. Myers pointed out that the water systems installed were very environmentally forward thinking and the irrigation plan itself involves wise water usage.The water in the ponds and the waterfalls is recycled. Irrigation of the plants, trees, and succulents are accomplished through Xerirratation by Rainbird. Each head on the individual bubblers can be turned off and the flow can be controlled allowing high usage foliage to receive more water, while others can receive less.
“The water seeps in slower rather than running off horizontally. It saves water and prevents unnecessary evaporation,” Myers noted.
There is a network of state-of –the-art equipment that filters, skims and cleanses the intricate ponds. Zen Aquatics created the design for the pond equipment in order to create an eco-system for the fish, fowl and system maintenance. Eventually, when a natural balance is established, chemical usage can be eliminated. Tons of sand was imported. At least two feet of depth was laid for the flamingo part of the pond to protect their sensitive feet.
Where do you get flamingos? While work on the flamingo pond progressed with a planned-spontaneity foundation, Lindi grew a bit uneasy. All research and shopping had panned out, save for the purchase of the project’s centerpiece… the flamingos. Inquires were made to zoos, the Hialeah racetrack in Florida, hotels and bird vendors.“I originally believed the Marriott Hotel would sell me some of theirs, however, finding the Vice President in charge of Flamingos proved to be a problem. I went from months of “no answer” to finally getting a “no” for an answer,” Lindi said.
Persistence prevailed and Lindi convinced one of her vets in San Diego to sell her his flamingos. It took until the end of October to have the newest addition to the Biggi estate party-ready. The inauguration happened at a fundraiser for one of Lindi’s favorite organizations, Animal Samaritans SPCA. She serves on their board of directors and is passionate about the painless process of micro chipping. This practice could offer permanent identification for companion animals. If lost, they could be found; if stolen, they could be reunited with their owners.
Geno Biggi takes it all in his stride. Along with the water feature, a one-hole golf course, replete with a sand bunker has also been constructed for him. Coupled with the already existing putting green and the bocce ball court, he is happy with the most recent additions to his desert home. Realizing his wife’s love and devotion to her animals doesn’t come cheap, he is sometimes heard to joke that it takes the sale of a heck of a lot of mustard to pay for all of this. Cost is relative, according to Lindi. “A lot of time and a lot of money, both of which I could keep an accounting of, neither of which I ever will. But then, I didn’t keep track of these things with my human children either’. “When you love something as much as I love these animals, you don’t count the money spent, you don’t measure the hours of labor caring for them, and you don’t track the things you give up because of them. You just do what is best for the animal, loving every minute of it, and knowing you’re blessed to have the job. Even if one would double or triple what ever the cost is, I receive far more than I give.”
Feeding of the birds, fish and other animals takes on a whole new meaning. Feed them dried bird seed? No way! Hundreds of bowls of fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts are prepared on a daily basis. Many of the fruit and mango trees are on the property.
Feeding and cleaning consumes a minimum of four hours a day. Then there’s another two hours devoted to bathing, grooming and socializing. Lindi is an active participant, but she defers some of these chores to her staff. The addition of the latest water feature brings extra safety concerns for the birds and fish. “I’ve never been afraid of raccoons before,” Lindi says, “I am now, as they could endanger the flamingos. Then there’s the blue heron they named Munch. He swoops down at day’s end in anticipation of a fresh fish dinner, as 130 Koi were brought in to stock the pond.
For now, the work is done but there will always be another project on the drawing board for Geno and Lindi Biggi. One thing is for certain where Lindi Biggi is concerned; it will always be about her “critters.” The Geno and Lindi Biggi Bird Gardens is one of a kind in the land of many splendored things. How does one describe this place in one word? Simple: Lindiland.