Where to start in Garden Railroads?


Texas Railfan
Hello Garden RRer's, I have a few questions about garden railroading. First of all I would like to tell you that I have a 4' x 8' HO scale layout (plywood jct as me and my friends refer to it) with a couple hundred railcars and engines, so I know a little about modeling HO scale- just a little :)

Here's the story: My mother who is the president of the local Herb Society here in Beaumont, Tx went to Atlanta last weekend for a convention. While there she seen a couple of the garden railroad layouts and is now inspired to build her own garden rr. At their house, the garden is about 20' x 40' ??? with more room to expand (less grass for my dad to cut!). She would be in charge of the garden and most of the creativity, I would be in charge of rounding up materials and doing the techincal stuff.

What I would like is a general idea of what brands to look for and any tips if you had to start from scratch again. I have looked up the prices on the internet hobby sites for G scale and it seems engines go for about $150-$300 a piece and railcars about $50. So I figure I will be looking at approx $1000 to get started with an engine, 3 railcars, and track & power, correct me if I'm wrong on this please. There will not be too much, if any, rivet counting on this project.
Any input would be helpful.
Last edited by a moderator:
I know a little about modeling HO scale
Methinks you know a LOT! The principles are pretty much the same for G scale --- the big trains are just easier to see and handle. :) You're already way ahead of the game in knowing how to design a layout that "works." For example, I made a big mistake at the very beginning by using some used track I had available, and wound up with a dogbone layout that requires passengers to cross the tracks to reach the depot! :eek: :D

The first question you and your mother should answer is whether the emphasis will be on the railroad, or on the garden. If she's primarily interested in a working garden, then the design will need to take that into account, and make it convenient to tend the plants. If the Railroad will be the main focal point, then the plantings will be incidental and designed to enhance the layout. In either case, convenient access to both the track and the plants is important for both operation and maintenance. In my case, I built the railroad to play with. The plants are there simply to add texture and realism to the "town."

My buildings so far are all Piko kits, but the sweet thing about Garden Railway modeling is that you can get away with scratchbuilt structures scaled at 1:24 (half-inch to a foot for narrow-gauge equipment). Only the meanest nitpickers will hassle you for that. :)

If I were to start over again, I'd use custom track rather than sectional track. That's a particular advantage if your layout will be constrained by any obstacles that you must work around by adjusting track radii. Bumps in the track cause headaches just like bumps on the head do.

In either case, I recommend that you power the locos rather than the track. You'll spend a lot less time on maintenance, and slight irregularities such as gaps or track that's slightly dirty or out of level won't be so likely to cause derailments.

I highly recommend Garden Railways magazine as well as their Web page as a resource. The magazine contains a list of Garden Railway Societies including four in Texas, any of which could be good sources for used equipment and advice. These clubs have regular meetings where you can visit layouts and get help, and they often have swap meets or sale tables at their meetings.

Here's a link from Bob's Model Railroad Links that's an excellent resource:: http://www.modelrailroaddata.com/suppliers/Garden_Railways/

Also check the sites for LGB, Aristo-Craft, and Bachmann (among others) for equipment, buildings, and figures of people and animals.
Thank you for the tips! I'll show her this post. Neither of us, especially her since she works in the garden, realized that once you lay the track it will be difficult to maintain the garden. We would have to bring in a load of sand and compact it for a sub-base also. She waters the garden everyday, but with the heat the ground still swells. Another factor is that there are about 10 outdoor cats that come and go. They would have a field day chasing the train. I will pass these considerations by her and she how she wants to proceed. I'm all up for it myself but it's her garden.

Thanks again,
Another factor is that there are about 10 outdoor cats that come and go.
Ah, yes. Garden railroading isn't without its hazards. Those cats would only have to be bumped in the nose or butt a couple of times before they'd learn to avoid the trains, though. :D

Maybe pathways dedicated to the train would solve the access problem. Some people lay a concrete base for the trackbed, while others simply dig a trench, line it with weedcloth, and fill it with fine gravel. Then add more gravel and tamp it once the track is in place. As for watering, if the trackbed is sufficiently contained, watering (other than a 10-years-flood) shouldn't hurt it.
Well an update, it's the end of summer and no real progress on my mom's part in making a decision. After showing her the cost of materials that she was dreaming about, it kinda put a damper on things. Also, the access will be a big issue. Thanks for the help!
My garden railway spent a few years in my imagination before it ever hit the dirt. :) After several months of working with my layout, I must admit that I have as much fun (if not more) developing my "little world" as I do running the train. Your Mom might get a kick out of "planting" a little town in her garden for now, and maybe adding a RR later.

It's easy to start with things from toy and crafts stores --- birdcages and fencing can suggest gazebos and property boundaries, for example. Then if a railroad happens later, some of the "furniture" will already be available. Toys scaled at 1/2" to a foot (1:24) are close enough to work with a G-scale layout later.

Wish your Mom Happy Gardening from me.