Create a Garden Railway and Keep Your Yard on Track

Are you a gardening enthusiast fascinated with toy trains? A garden railway, or train garden, cleverly combines these favorite pastimes into amazing sites with which everyone can enjoy. These gardens will actually come to life as the model trains gracefully move about the miniature landscape filled with low-growing plants and realistic buildings.

You don’t have to be an expert to design a garden railway of your own; however, you may want to do some research beforehand to make the task a little easier. There are numerous resources, such as books and magazines, available on the subject. Your local extension office can provide this information as well. You might also consider visiting some garden railways that are located in your area. Before planning your garden railway design, perform a quick inspection of the designated site to ensure that it is suitable. Since outdoor model trains require a fairly level area, this will be something to bear in mind as you examine your property. Determine whether or not the track will be added to an existing garden or if both will be designed at the same time. Finally, decide just how elaborate you want your garden railway to be. For beginners, less may be more; however, leave yourself enough room in the event you want to add onto it later.

Since your railway will be accommodating a host of plant life, choose an area easily accessible to a water source. Additionally, interesting water features within the design can enhance its appeal. If you have rocks or a slope in your yard, incorporate these into your design for a more natural effect. Since most model locomotives and cars are waterproof, they can be run even when it is raining. The track, too, is made materials such as brass, stainless steel, or aluminum to prevent any rusting. You may, however, want to create a place to store your train. Some people design their railways to run into their home or outbuilding through a small tunnel. A pet door would be another option.

There are many ways to install the track; however, one of the easiest is to float the track in stones or gravel. Dig a shallow trench, about 2 or 3 inches deep, and fill it with crushed stone. Set the track in place, making sure it is level. Backfill with additional stones until flush with ground. By floating the track, it can move freely as summer heat causes the rails to expand and winter cold makes them contract. Another method for installing track is to simply select a material, such as hardwood, to use as the track base. Measure the lengths, including both straight and curved, according to the track’s design and cut the pieces as you lay it. Attach the track to the wooden base with brass nails.

Generally, a single locomotive with three or four pieces of rolling stock (freight or passenger cars) is adequate. G-scale trains are the most popular. Scale is the proportion of the model to the full-size train (1:24 scale). Gauge is the distance between the rails. A G-scale runs on 1-gauge (G-gauge) track. When choosing a train, decide on the type of railroad. For instance, will it accommodate freight or passengers? A small industrial line, with little engines and short cars is ideal for areas with limited space, while a modern mainline requires more room. There is a variety of ready-to-install track available to choose from and can be purchased in many hobby shops. You can even choose to construct your own; however, this is best left for those who are more knowledgeable in this area. Commercial track comes in sections with set lengths and curves, available in short or longer sections to suit your needs.

Sectional track can be easily picked up and put down; however, if you want a more permanent railway, you should consider using flexible track. This type of track can be easily bent to fit nearly any design. Once you have determined the scale and gauge for your track, decide how your train will be powered. Trains usually operate on a 12V-18V DC power supply, the same as with most garden lighting. The power pack should be located in a dry area and easily accessible to an electrical outlet. Other options for powering your train include those that are battery-powered, radio-controlled, or even real steam locomotives.

After you have finished designing and laying your track, it’s time to place your vegetation and realistic features. Try sticking with natural materials when constructing your miniature landscape. For instance, create mountains made of dirt, rivers made of water, rocks made of stone, etc. With the use of small annuals and dwarf or low-growing varieties of plants, you can create a realistic train garden. Use plants no more than 2-3 feet tall. There are numerous rock garden plants that are suitable. Annuals to consider include sweet alyssum, dwarf marigold, thyme, marjoram, creeping rosemary, and creeping zinnia. Low-growing varieties of trees and shrubs that are commonly used include bearberry, creeping juniper, boxwood, and dwarf pines and spruces.

The cone and round shapes of dwarf evergreens will also provide winter interest and structure. Perennials and groundcovers are important elements in this type of garden. They are often used to create miniature prairies as well as for covering slopes and track sides. Use small-leaved sedum to imitate shrubs. Moss and short perennial grasses are good choices for mimicking grass. Other low-growing perennials can offer interesting foliage and color. For instance, try creeping phlox, baby tears, or hens and chicks. If you are incorporating any houses or other miniature buildings into your scene, keep them weather-resistant by adding a coat of polyurethane.

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