Gardening Articles: Health :: Garden Crafts

Garden Railroading

by Art Edelstein


A model train adds whimsy, and a way for the toy-inclined to relate to the garden.

The train chugged along until the engineer saw an obstruction ahead and slammed on the brakes. Walking to the front of the locomotive, he bent down and with a quick fling hurled the crabapple into a nearby field. When you operate a garden railroad, even a 2-inch fruit can lead to a serious pileup.

Garden railroading may seem like a new idea, but it isn't. It began more than a century ago in Britain and flourished in the United States during the 1920s and '30s. It fizzled out by the end of World War II but was rejuvenated in 1968, when Germany introduced a new breed of outdoor model trains — the Lehman Gross Bahn. Today, in every state and many foreign countries, gardeners who love model railroading combine these two interests. The hobby's major publication, Garden Railways magazine, reports more than 35,000 subscribers.

Aficionados say their hobby allows family members with a broad range of interests — horticultural to mechanical — to share an activity. Train collecting, train running, model building, landscaping, water gardening, and rock gardening can all contribute to a successful garden railroad. It doesn't even matter if one lives in Vermont, where winter snows bury the tracks, or in Florida, where the sun shines year-round-the technology for running the garden railroad has few climatic restrictions.


As usual, the conductor is stationed on the cabose, enjoying the view.

A garden railroad overview
A well-conceived garden railroad is more than just train, track, and plants. You can express your interest in Western American history, Alpine villages, steam trains, or urban railroads. This pastime also involves creating scale-model dioramas with miniature buildings, people, animals, bridges, mountains, lakes, and other realistic scenes. Depending on time and budget, they can be homemade or purchased.

A garden railroad should be thought of more as an overall landscaping project than a pretty garden. Whatever the track plan, the garden element must conform to it; the key is to keep all aspects of the planting in scale with the railroad features. The railroad should fit naturally into the setting and surrounding landscape.

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