Garden railroading is an excellent way to combine family interests/hobbies such as gardening and model railroading.


There are many varieties of gardens, including vegetable, flower, wildflower and cactus gardens. An interesting variation for any of these is the addition of a garden railroad.

Most of you have seen a model railroad, probably an indoor railroad on some sort of table or platform. An excellent example is in the restored Historic Decatur Railroad Depot. That railroad is HO scale; 1:87th the size of the trains that pass by the station.

Hobby railroads come in many sizes, HO, N, O, but for your hobby railroad to be set up outside it will likely be G. Most garden railroads are 1:24 scale.

Probably the best known local garden railroad is at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. This railroad usually runs throughout the year. A garden scale railroad is being built by local Boy Scouts at the Decatur depot.

There is one other known garden railroad in Decatur, built by a Master Gardener couple in their yard on Burningtree Mountain. It generally operates year round, except when all the leaves are falling.

Garden railroads can be whimsical, with all sorts of “toy” trains, such as the Polar Express, or can represent a real railroad. The Burningtree railroad is a realistic model; built to G (1:24) scale of a loop on the Uintah Railway near Grand Junction, Colorado.

Garden railroading is an excellent way to combine family interests/hobbies such as gardening and model railroading. Local challenges include the aforementioned leaves; critters such as chipmunks and ground squirrels that like to burrow; deer that may take a liking to the garden plants; and rain, snow, and sun. Gardening challenges include soil types, shade and sun, and plant control. While annoying, none of these should keep anyone from enjoying a garden railroad.

Most garden railroaders like to have garden plants that are small, and close to scale. In shaded areas moss is an excellent and natural ground cover. Trailing vinca and ivy also serve this purpose, but do have to be kept pinched back. Dwarf mondo grass works well, both to represent grass or in clumps. Dianthus and small mums add a spot of color tucked amongst the evergreens. By pinching them back, they bloom spring to fall.

Trailing junipers work as a ground cover and add a realistic Colorado mountain look. There are also some very small trees, such as Tiny Tim arborvitae that look realistically sized. Here in the South you cannot go wrong with an azalea anywhere. When it grows too large for your garden railroad setting, simply transplant it and replant new smaller plants. Many garden railroads have water features, such as flowing streams. These give you a chance to add interest to your yard and are easy to do.

Garden railroading is like all hobbies; you can spend as much or as little as you want. Trains and equipment range from detailed and expensive to do-it-yourself hobby kits. Plants can be bought from nurseries, home improvement stores, and at events like the annual Master Gardener plant sale.

If you are interested in learning more about garden railroading, there is a variety of information online, and through magazines such as Garden Railways. Information on local gardening can be also be found online, specifically at www.ACES.edu or at the “Ask a Master Gardener” booth at the Farmer’s Market. Alabama Gardener and Birds and Blooms magazines are available at the local library, provided by the Morgan County Master Gardeners.

Barb Brown is a member of the Morgan County Master Gardeners Association. Members write columns periodically with gardening tips. mcmga.plantsale@gmail.com

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