Garden Railroads or Railroad Gardens?
Is there really a difference? I believe there is … at least conceptually. When I decided to transition into outdoor large scale railroading, I brought with me many of the ways of doing things I had used for many years in my indoor smaller scale modeling. Things like forced perspective, selective compression, scale fidelity, controlled lighting, controlled focal points, and many of the other tricks-of-the-trade that model railroaders utilize to alter a viewer’s perception of their models. Many of these modeling concepts tend to clash head-on with the constraints imposed by garden landscaping. After all, any layout in the outdoors must endure the whims of Mother Nature. We can try to fight her, but we all know that Mothers always have the final say. The key is to achieve a balanced compromise that provides the best of both worlds and minimizes the apparent conflicts.
As I work on my latest – and hopefully my last – outdoor layout, I want to take advantage of all of my previous experiences, both good and bad. I hope to utilize lessons-learned and take advantage of the multitude of great ideas willingly shared by others. As I performed the various trade-offs associated with designing the layout, I quickly realized that there is no such thing as a “standard” outdoor layout. All of our layouts represent the uniqueness that each of us bring to the hobby. All of us must deal with various constraints, whether they be space, weather, our individual state of health, available budget, or our simple likes and dislikes. That said, in general I feel that most outdoor layouts fall into one of the following types.
Railroad Only – No Garden:
Many outdoor layouts emphasize the railroad as the primary object with the garden only serving as an accessory. In some outdoor layouts, the garden is actually non-existent! The layout is nothing more than a model railroad located outside. On these layouts, items such as landscape timbers or block walls usually define where the layout begins and clearly separate it from the lawn or garden in which it resides. Some are nothing more than a continuous bridge structure. This type of outdoor layout is all about the railroad. Many of them are elevated above the level of the surrounding lawn or garden for easier access. Don’t misunderstand me; I love this type of outdoor layout. They are easier to build … they are easier to maintain … they are easier to operate … and they are fun.
Railroad First – Garden Later:
Many outdoor layouts incorporate garden elements within the railroad. On these layouts, the builder usually designs the track plan first with all of the necessary contours and elevations. After the track is in place and the trains are running, the builder then begins to move vast amounts of dirt and rocks, and to populate the layout with appropriate plantings and textures needed to transform the raw layout into a garden railroad. Probably most outdoor layouts fall within this broad category. The garden portion of the outdoor layout may be scale-oriented and naturalistic, with small-leaved plants and shrubs selected to mimic representations of prototype vegetation. Or, conversely, the garden portion may be populated with amazing diversity, using profuse colors and textures of plantings to create a sensuous treat for the viewer as the trains traverse the layout.
Garden First – Railroad Later:
Most of these layouts started with an existing garden or yard space and the railroad was designed to fit within it. Minor changes to the existing landscape may have been made be made to accommodate the track, but for the most part, the trains traverse existing terrain. At maturity, this type of outdoor layout is hard to distinguish from the previous type. Both have a natural blend of railroad and landscape elements. But on careful examination, subtle differences do exist. In a garden first type of layout, the track right of way carefully follows the terrain of the garden. Every curve, every grade, and every bridge is located strictly by the demands of the garden terrain. Few items, if any, look out of place.
Garden and Railroad Together:
At first glance, one might think that this type of layout is just like the garden first type of layout. After all, the garden is the primary emphasis and that the railroad is nothing more than an accessory that runs through it. But this is actually a carefully constructed illusion. It is true that the garden portion of the layout is designed first. But, every feature of the garden landscape is designed with the railroad in mind: rivers and valleys to cross … mountains to climb over or tunnel through … towns and villages to connect. The layout is easily divided into multiple scenes or vignettes, each of which can be designed to optimize both the modeling and landscaping perfection. The garden terrain can be manipulated to accommodate minimum radii and maximum gradients required by the railroad. The railroad track plan can be manipulated to accommodate the placement of terrain and vegetation features required by the landscape. It is a give-and-take exercise; with continual trade-offs involving desirability, feasibility, cost, accessibility, maintenance, operation, and ultimate effect.