. . . some of the railroads shown in the book border on spectacular, but majority of them are simply well-conceived and very well executed versions of the garden railroads that many thousands of folks have already put into their back yards.
. . . the vast majority of plants shown in the book are readily available to most gardeners in North America.
. . . books like Gorgeous Garden Railways allow readers to see many entirely different kinds of railroads and to see what is possible, versus what the other members of the club have already accomplished.
A Gorgeous Garden Railway Book
Marc Horovitz has edited Garden Railways magazine forever (including the years he did everything himself before Kalmbach got in on the action). He has contributed to or cowritten several books on the subject as well, including a few which are "classic" in our little field. And despite his ability to "get his hands dirty" with a shovel or a scratchbuilding project, he never forgets that the best garden railroads are more than the sum of their parts.
I've been bugging Marc for years to publish a new "how-to" book for beginning garden railroaders. Since Marc cowrote his last one, brands and scales have come and gone, new construction methods have emerged, and the hobby has matured in many ways. That said, while I was busy telling people how deep to dig their post holes in zone 5, Marc and his cowriter Pat Hayward were reviewing many hundreds of photographs and trying to put together the best "coffeetable book" on Garden Railroading ever. As far as I know, they have succeeded. The emphasis is certainly on the many dozens of "gorgeous" photographs, which range from the charming to the awe-inspiring.
Some of the photos will look familiar to Garden Railways readers, but in this book, they're not crowded out by advertising, and they're joined by dozens of other photographs of the best that the Garden Railroading hobby has to offer.
But ironically, nobody, even the newest beginner, should be intimidated by this book. Rather Marc and Pat hope it will encourage more and more people to get involved when they see what is possible. When you take a close look, you'll see that to the authors, the word "gorgeous" doesn't mean "unattainable by normal people," but "well-conceived, balanced, and attractive."
For the long version of why Marc feels this way, see Marc's articles on Garden Railway Aesthetics. As I understand what Marc has said and written on the subject, I think his overall concern is that each garden railroad should have integrity, that is, it should be designed, built, and planted in a way that is true, not only to the preferences of the owner/railroader, but also to itself and to the land it occupies. In other words:
Marc's coauthor, Pat Hayward, has forgotten more about plants than I'll ever know. Her contribution is visible, not only in the text that discusses appropriate garden railroad plants, but also in the choice of photographs that show effective use of plantings for each garden railroad.
And, perhaps most importantly, although Pat doesn't call out many of the species illustrated, the vast majority of plants shown in the book are readily available to most gardeners in North America. If you see something you like, and you live near a full-service nursery or botannical garden, chances are that if you take the book to them, they will be able to tell you the name of what you want, and whether it will survive in your region. (If nothing else they can suggest plants that would give you similar results. If all else fails, e-mail me and I'll hazard a guess.) Again, most of the planting ideas you get out of this book can be used directly or with some modification in your back yard.
My Only CriticismsAs a source of inspiration and ideas, this book has a great deal of value for everyone who is even considering starting a garden railroad; my only criticisms are minor editorial choices I might have made differently:
Why Else You Need This BookMarc and Pat are hoping the same thing I am, that this book will inspire you to get out the shovel and join the fun of model railroading. But there's another value that is less obvious - to help you think "outside of the box" of your own region's most common practices.
Unlike Marc, I haven't toured the world's best garden railroads with an expensive camera, but I have observed many garden railways in three major markets. One thing I've noticed is that people tend to imitate what they see in practice. Most garden railways in each region seem to imitate the first well-known and well-established railroad in the club; if it was a ground-level empire that ran the perimeter of the back yard, so will most of the other railroads in the region. If it was a "tabletop," raised with stacked stones or landscaping blocks, so will be most of the rest of the railroads in the region. Now, learning from others is critical in this hobby. But books like Gorgeous Garden Railways allow readers to see many entirely different kinds of railroads and to see what is possible, versus seeing only what the other members of your local club have already accomplished. Again, nothing in this book is labeled "Don't try this at home."
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And, obviously, if this book inspires you to get started on your railroad and you need more practical information (like how deep to dig your post holes in Zone 5), many of the methods used to build, plant, and maintain most of the railroads in this book are described in our Primer pages.
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Have a great summer (or winter, to my friends down under).
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