A Victorian passion revived

In the late 19th century, European railroad promoters built outdoor scale models of their projects as a way to entice investors and test equipment. The layouts were often given to children as toys once they had served their purpose, and from these beginnings the hobby of model railroading was born.

They also gave birth to a landscaping hobby -- that of the garden railway. The development of all-weather electric model trains in the 1970s breathed new life into the garden-railway movement, and there are now over 3,500 such installations in the United States, according to Garden Railway magazine.

One of these installations will be at the Morris Arboretum from July 4 to Oct. 4. Designed by Paul Busse, one of the country's most inventive garden railway designers, the Arboretum's Garden Railway is a recreation of historic Philadelphia landmarks.

Busse's Garden Railway Philadelphia is a "greene countrie towne" indeed -- the designer constructs his model buildings using mosses, leaves, bark, twigs, hollow logs, acorns, flowers, seeds and stones. Busse's use of the stuff of nature in creating garden-railway layouts has won praise from both Garden Railway magazine and Architectural Digest, which called him "a pioneer in lending authentic details to the landscape."

-- S.S.

  • GARDEN RAILWAY: July 4 through Oct. 4 at the Morris Arboretum, 100 Northwestern Ave., Chestnut Hill. Exhibit hours 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends; special evening hours until 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays through Sept. 3. Admission $5, seniors $4, students $3, children under 6 free. Info: 247-5777. See day-to-day listings for additional Garden Railway events.

Originally published on May 28, 1998