Tiny fo­liage ac­com­pa­nies minia­ture train vil­lage

The Progress-Index - At Home - - News - BY KATHY VAN MULLEKOM

NEW­PORT NEWS — It’s fall fo­liage time in the tiny town of Su­gar­land.

As the weather turns cool and crisp, life chugs on — the dairy farm sup­plies milk to the sugar re­fin­ery so the bak­ery and candy shop can pro­vide lots of sweets for Candy Cane Vil­lage res­i­dents. The town, served by the South­ern R&R rail­road, is also home to the Donut Po­lice Sta­tion, Red Hot Fire De­part­ment, Gin­ger Snap Park and Rollo Golf Course. Kids at­tend the M&M Ele­men­tary and Sugar High school; Gra­ham Cracker Farm is home to cows, pigs and chick­ens.

As Christ­mas ap­proaches, res­i­dents look out for a visit from the Po­lar Ex­press.

Wel­come to Pa­tri­cia Moss’ back­yard, host to Su­gar­land and the mini many res­i­dents who dwell in her rail­road garden.

“I love gar­den­ing and my hus­band, Char­lie, and I like model rail­roads, so I’ve com­bined the two,” says Pa­tri­cia, who lives in York­town, Va.

“All build­ings have candy or sug­ary-like names, and most re­side on Lemon Drop Lane.”

Pa­tri­cia’s rail­road garden — 200 feet of Gs­cale track wind­ing through a 40-by-12-foot space — started in 1997, when she first laid the track on con­crete blocks. When voles and moles kept dis­rupt­ing soil un­der the blocks, Char­lie re­built the track on treated lum­ber sup­ported with plas­tic PVC pipe.

More than 50 col­or­ful cookie jars in the shapes of houses and busi­nesses make up most of Su­gar­land’s build­ings. Pa­tri­cia finds them in an­tique and thrift stores, and many are gifts from friends and fam­ily.

“I never knew that cookie jars came in so many won­der­ful shapes and col­ors,” says David Tay­lor, a mem­ber of the Hamp­ton Roads Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety which re­cently vis­ited the rail­road garden.

“Char­lie and Patsy have cre­ated a jewel right in their back yard.”

While trains and build­ings form Su­gar­land’s en­ergy, plants give the town Mother Na­ture’s spe­cial am­biance. Trees such as pines, sweet gums and crape myr­tles are pruned to stay small; nan­d­ina is a nat­u­ral be­cause its tall, stalk-like pres­ence nat­u­rally looks like a clump of close-grow­ing trees. Creep­ing Jenny and moss are used for green spa­ces.

“I cov­ered con­crete block with out­door car­pet to see the cookie jars on and a beau­ti­ful moss started grow­ing there — per­fect for my lawn in front of the houses,” says Pa­tri­cia.

“Any plants with small leaves such as

nan­d­ina, Mex­i­can heather, se­dum, dusty miller and pen­cil trees are used to make a real­is­tic look of a minia­ture town.

“Garden Rail­ways mag­a­zine al­ways has a sec­tion on minia­ture plants to use, but the main idea is to look for plants that re­sem­ble real­is­tic scenery for the trains’ back­ground. A bon­sai book can help you learn the art of keep­ing plants small, and ground cov­ers will spread quickly.

As win­ter nears, Pa­tri­cia takes the build­ings in­doors where she cleans and stores them. The trains are never left out­doors, even dur­ing warm weather. When the mood strikes her, she’ll bring them out to run while she has morn­ing cof­fee or at night when the train lights can il­lu­mi­nate the dark­ness.

“It’s like an ex­panded play­house,” she says.

“It’s also a trib­ute to my fa­ther who died when he was 59 and was still work­ing for the rail­road. My fa­ther was a pipe fit­ter, my un­cle an en­gi­neer and both grand­fa­thers made their bread and but­ter from the South­ern Rail­way.

“For me, it’s dis­play­ing life in minia­ture.”

ALL-ABOARD TIPS

Pa­tri­cia Moss of­fers th­ese tips on cre­at­ing a rail­road garden:

De­cide how large you want your rail­road garden to be and where you want to place it.

Plan your road bed — the sim­plest is float­ing track on bal­last, or in­stalling track di­rectly on chicken grit (oys­ter shells) mixed with fast-dry­ing con­crete bought at hard­ware stores.

Buy com­mer­cially made track of G scale, which is avail­able in dif­fer­ent lengths for run­ning elec­tric or bat­tery-op­er­ated trains. A bat­tery-op­er­ated train elim­i­nates the need to clean the track.

De­cide on a garden name, one that al­lows you cre­ativ­ity and ex­pan­sion op­tions.

Cre­ate real­is­tic scenery. Use minia­ture plants and build­ings, re­ly­ing on 3-inch peo­ple as your guide. For ex­am­ple, doors on build­ings should be at least 3 inches tall.

BEST BOOK

“Gor­geous Garden Rail­ways” by Marc Horovitz, ed­i­tor of Garden Rail­ways maga- zine, and Pat Hay­ward, hor­ti­cul­tural ed­i­tor of Garden Rail­ways. Full of large pho­tos and help­ful text on garden rail­road land­scap­ing, trains, in­fra­struc­ture and water features.

ON­LINE

Garden Rail­ways mag­a­zine, with on­line plant li­brary and pond-care ba­sics, at http:// grw.trains.com.

Fam­ily Garden Trains, in­clud­ing garden rail­road con­struc­tion and plant se­lec­tion ar­ti­cles, at www.fam­i­ly­gar­den­trains.com.

• Kathy Van Mullekom is gar­den­ing colum­nist for the Daily Press, New­port News, Va.; e-mail her at kvan­mullekom@aol.com; fol­low her at roomand­yard.com/dig­gin, Face­book.com/kathy­van­mullekom, Pin­ter­est.com/dig­ginin and Twit­ter.com/dig­gindirt.

JUDY LOW­ERY/NEW­PORT NEWS DAILY PRESS/MCT

The Po­lar Ex­press has nar­ra­tion by Tom Hanks when it moves as fea­tured in the back­yard of Pa­tri­cia Moss in York­town, Vir­ginia, Nov. 1.

MCT PHO­TOS

Above: The book ‘Gor­geous Garden Rail­ways’ de­tails how to cre­ate your own back­yard vi­gnette with model rail­roads and plants. Left: Patsy Moss in her out­door garden built around model rail­roads, Nov. 1, in York­town, Vir­ginia. Top left: Patsy Moss ad­justs the bat­tery op­er­ated Po­lar Ex­press in her rail­road garden.

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