How gardening and railroading are connected
Gardening and building model railroads have been popular hobbies for ages. But a recent trend combines these two hobbies: garden railroading.
Garden railroading can be as simple as a railroad track looping around a flower bed, or as complex as a full model of a rail yard. Knowing proper terminology is important for any hobby, so let’s start there.
An original full-sized reallife rail car is called the prototype; the miniature model you carry around the backyard is called a model. Many people design their entire garden railroad based on a prototype. Others mix and match rail cars, buildings and landscaping according to their personal taste.
The proportions of rail car models are scaled to the prototype. For example, if one-half of an inch on the model is equal to 1 foot on the prototype, the model is considered half scale and the proportion is written as 1:24. There are numerous railroad modeling scale standards; the G scale is used for garden railroads and is nearly the same as the half scale, at a proportion of 1:22.5.
The gauge of a railroad is the distance between the rails. The standard gauge on prototype tracks is 4 feet 8.25 inches apart. Tracks that are closer together are called narrow gauge. Some prototype railroads had their own particular gauge to suit the terrain and location, such as a custom narrow gauge to go up a mountain.
You can buy different kits to build an entire model railroad based on a specific prototype. If you want your railroad trestle to span the length of your garden stream, you could also design and build your own to make it look like an old wooden bridge from a Western movie. This is called scratch building. Or, scratch build a whole city to surround your scratch built train. Scratch building is more difficult, but worth it.
A third option is kitbashing — creating a new scale model by taking pieces out of commercial kits to make it look like a scratch build. This gives you a personalized look and a functional substructure.
Whether building a garden railroad from scratch or installing it into an existing landscape, the train tracks need to be nearly level. It can slope for a maximum of 3 inches for every 100 inches of horizontal distance. Make wide curves in the track for the train to move right and work properly. I recommend a radius no smaller than 6 feet for garden scale trains.
Many model trains run on the same low-voltage wiring as most garden lighting, but some of them are designed to run on battery packs. Steam trains, alternatively, burn butane or alcohol to create steam.
Some trains run on control systems, just like the old train we remember from childhood, running around the Christmas tree. And there are radio controllers that operate as many as ten trains at once with no wires at all. Remember the sounds of those little trains chugging around the living room? Well, now there are sound systems that re-create those sounds.
Many garden railroaders use dwarf trees, shrubs, ground covers and flowers to create a miniature landscape inspired by real life. Most of the gardening techniques are the same for any flower bed, but the real concern is keeping it all to scale.
If you’re following the half-scale model, you’ll need a 5-inch-tall model tree to depict a 10-foottall prototype tree. Use moss to make model grass and a boxwood shrub for a model oak tree. You’ll want to buy plants that grow small — otherwise, you’ll have to prune them often. Plants used closest to the tracks need to look the most realistic; plants farther away can be more generic-looking.