Holiday Garden Railway

West Philadelphia Orchestra

WHAT: The seventh annual seasonal miniature railway display at the Morris Arboretum features model trains winding through a world created entirely out of items found in nature.

TWIGS, BARK AND LEAVES: Railway designer Paul Busse uses bark, leaves, twigs, hollow logs, mosses, acorns, dried flowers, seeds and stones to form the landscape and buildings for each railway display. He even designs miniature rivers and, for the first time this year, has even added a waterfall. The entire scene is decked out for the holidays with tiny twinkling lights.

HOW BIG IS THIS THING?: The Holiday Garden Railway actually features a quarter mile of track for its “G-scale” trains. The display includes seven loops and tunnels, 15 different rail lines, two cable cars and nine bridges—including a jaw-dropping trestle bridge that crosses over the pedestrian pathway.

LOCAL LANDMARKS: Think those structures look familiar? There’s a good reason: True to its tradition of including local landmarks, this year’s display includes miniature replicas of the Betsy Ross House, Penn’s Fisher Fine Arts Library and even Independence Hall, complete with pine cone seeds for shingles, acorns as finials and twigs as downspouts.

BEGINNINGS: Garden Railways have actually been entertaining audiences for generations; the practice dates back to the beginning of (real) railroads in Europe during the late 19th century, when railroad builders produced scale models of potential projects to attract investors and test track layouts. After serving their original purpose, the miniature layouts were often given to children as toys. In recent years, there’s been a renewed interest in these displays. According to Garden Railways magazine, there are now about 3,500 installations across the country.

WHO’S BEHIND THIS? Busse has worked with the Arboretum since 1997 on the summer railway (which runs from May to October). He also creates about a dozen other displays across the country each year, and has had his displays placed at Longwood Gardens, and the New York and Chicago botanical gardens, among other places.

MEMBERS ONLY: Morris Arboretum Beech Level members (those who give $95 and higher) are invited to a special Holiday Garden Railway event on Friday, Dec. 7 from 4 to 7 p.m. The railway will be up and running, and patrons can enjoy hot cocoa, cookies and children’s crafts. Reservations are required; call 215-247-5777, ext. 155.

DETAILS: The Holiday Garden Railway runs through Dec. 31 at the Arboretum. Admission is free with a PennCard; otherwise admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for children ages 3 to 18. Children under 3 are admitted for free. For more information, go to

Originally published on December 6, 2007