The Chicago Botanic Garden;s Model Railroad Garden includes new landmarks of 2010.Historic Comiskey Park and the White House vegetable garden are now part of the attraction in Glencoe, Illinois. The Model Railroad Garden is an outdoor feature that is open through October 31 to the delight of visitors young and old.
The Model Railroad Garden: “Landmarks of America,” is a 7,500 square foot miniature United States with garden scale trains linking the destinations. Train and garden enthusiasts return each year for the exquisite buildings, detailed landscapes and the joy of watching trains travel through it all. Not only are the buildings intricately handcrafted with natural materials, including seed pods, twigs, bark, leaves, acorns and pebbles, but also many hands work on every aspect of the exhibition behind the scenes.
Preparation for the exhibition begins in January when the engineers make repairs to the 17 trains in the railroad office and the team from Applied Imagination build the new features in their Kentucky workshop. This year they were challenged with recreating historic Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox baseball team, and the White House vegetable garden and beehive, all with natural materials. In March, the horticulturist in charge of the garden prunes the trees and shrubs to keep them in scale. In mid-April, Paul Busse and his crew of six arrives to level the track, replace some bridges, and clean and repair close to 50 miniature American landmarks, which were kept in storage over winter. A crew of up to six Chicago Botanic Garden railroad engineers work with Busse to prepare the 1,600 feet of track for the trains.
A crew of up to three horticulturists and five seasonal staff spend two weeks planting the vignettes with over 5,000 tiny trees, shrubs, groundcovers and flowering plants in close to 300 varieties to make a realistic landscape around the buildings. A group of miniaturists comes in a few days before the garden opens to add miniature cars and figurines to create a storybook feel. The final touch is adding a series of handwritten signs that tell visitors interesting facts about the landmarks, plants or trains.
Paul Busse of Applied Imagination, Alexandria, Ky., designs and creates the Model Railroad Garden buildings. Busse’s fascination with trains began at age five when he received an American Flyer train. He graduated as a landscape architect in 1972, but his career was put on track in 1982 with his first public garden railway display at the Ohio State Fair. Since then, he has enjoyed a career in train garden design. Busse’s exhibits are in numerous private and public spaces, including botanic gardens and arboreta across the United States. Busse and his team also created the Chicago Botanic Garden’s indoor winter holiday exhibition, Wonderland Express.
Model Railroad Garden engineers Dave Rodelius and Larry Marchetti, along with a crew of assistants, work together to ensure trains run smoothly and on time. The trains travel over 22,000 miles each season. Volunteer greeters provide visitors with information about the trains and locations depicted in the garden. Train lines include the Santa Fe Super Chief, Chicago Northwestern Commuter (known as a fallen flag line), the Union Pacific and every child’s favorite, Thomas the Tank engine.
Many visitors come to gather ideas for their own backyard garden railway. Garden railroading is the fastest growing segment of hobby railroading, and more and more gardeners are “getting railroaded.” Today, the United States has as many as 25,000 garden railways.
The exhibition is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Sunday, October 31, 2010 with special hours until 8 p.m. from Saturday, June 5 through Monday, Sept. 6, weather permitting. Model Railroad Garden admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 3-12. Garden members receive $1 off these rates. A 10-visit pass is available for $28.