How to Make a Garden Railway

A model railway in a garden can make an exciting feature that allows a gardener to grow specialist small plants, delights viewers and lets children discover the garden in a whole new way. This article explains how to put together a garden railway.


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    Plan a garden space suitable for the railway. You'll need to set aside enough of a space where the track can be laid out, scenery grown and tended to, and model features such as buildings and bridges can be added.
    • Try to choose a place that is visually pleasing and easy to access.
    • Consider elevating the display if possible; it will make it easier to look after and to see. Something about the height a young child would find easy to view is good.
    • Be sure to keep in mind the usual use of the garden and how that will impact and be impacted by the garden railway. In addition, consider the possible problems of pets and wild animals having access to the track and plan to guard against any potential damage.
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    Find out who wants to get involved. Make it as much a family affair as possible because it's more fun that way and you'll have more hands to help out. Kids are usually thrilled to be involved but their level of interest depends very much on their ability to contribute, so try to find something age-appropriate for each of them. If you've got a neighbor who is keen too, rope them in!
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    Plan the track and layout. Your design will need to reflect your aesthetic preferences, your budget, and the space available. If you plan to build the track over stages, take this into account when preparing the plan.
    • A simple round or oval track without anything fancy is a good starting layout. It will allow you to shape the plants and props around it to give it more interest, and it will be easy to incorporate a bridge and a tunnel if wished.
    • If planning a fancier design, ensure that the design can be achieved by doing a layout with regular track on your floor.
    • Always account for the size of the trains you'll be adding as this will determine the size of the track, which in turn impacts the whole design.
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    Plan the budget. It's important to be aware from the start that a garden railway can cost a fair amount, including the costs of preparing the garden space (soil, retaining or elevating elements, gravel/pebbles, etc.), the costs of the plants, and the costs of the track, trains, and accompanying items. The fancier you get, the costlier it becomes but you will probably enjoy making some of the times, and hunting things down in online auctions, etc. Plan to add to it gradually and the costs will be spread out over time.
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    Purchase suitable track and carriages. The track and carriages must be capable of staying outdoors in all weather, so be sure to purchase or build items that are capable of withstanding outdoor elements. Some of the things to consider purchasing or building include:
    • Track
    • Bridge
    • Buildings
    • Make use of natural features incorporated into the garden railway
    • Tunnel
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    Start building the garden railway. This will take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks or even months, depending on the time you have available and the complexity of your design. The weather will also impact your ability to complete it.
    • Prepare the garden space. Clear away all debris and unwanted plants in the vicinity. Use a level to ensure evenness of the surface.
    • Gather the materials. If you're elevating or adding retaining features, put these in first.
    • Ensure adequate drainage and weed protection. Consider laying down weed mat. Be sure that the soil will drain well following rain.
    • Follow the design. Lay the track where the design indicates. Use rustproof nails and screws.
    • Place down the materials that will cover the soil, around and over the track (sand, gravel, etc.). For the track, use layering to build railway ballast, such as sawdust, fine cover, then larger pebbles or small rocks.
    • Smooth over the soil cover so that it sits evenly.

    • Use a brush (a pastry brush or paintbrush are both good) to remove sand or soil off the tracks as you build.
    • Place the buildings into position once the track and soil cover are neatly in place.
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    Select your trains. You should have already chosen the train size to suit the track. Now it's time to find some trains!
    • Make a decision about whether you prefer having the trains controlled by battery inserted direct into the train, or using a transformer box. If using electricity outdoors, follow all the safety instructions for outdoor usage and get the help of an electrician if needed.
    • Investigate a timer for the trains to prevent them from running continuously and running down their batteries.
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    Maintain the garden railway. It's important to keep the garden railway well cared for or you risk losing it to nature's overgrowth.
    • Weed it regularly.
    • Trim the bushes serving as "trees" regularly. Consider bonsai methods.
    • Remove dirt, dust, fallen leaves, and other garden debris on a regular basis.
    • Keep trains inside when not in use.


  • Read books devoted to building garden railways; they will have a lot of advice, ideas, and designs for you to draw from.
  • Apply the same principles of design and engineering from a life-size railway to this garden sized version.
  • Test the track as you lay it in case there are problems of unevenness or poor joins, etc.
  • If you use wood, be sure to check that it is weatherproofed.
  • Ask for advice from your local model supplier or outdoor model expert. If you can afford it, there are specialists in this field who will build the model for you but you won't have half as much fun!


  • Your spouse or partner may not be as keen to see the garden taken over by your new hobby. This is why it's important to get the family enthused too.
  • This article does not cover the use of electrics with your garden railway. Be sure to seek proper advice on outdoor usage of electricity and to get a professional electrician to assist you.
  • This is an addictive hobby!

Things You'll Need

  • Design tools - paper, pencils, or computer program
  • Suitable garden space
  • Garden elements, such as bricks or blocks for elevating or creating retaining features, gravel, sand, cement, etc.
  • Tools such as a trowel, hammer, shovel, screwdriver, etc.
  • Suitable plants – small growing plants, nothing weedy or likely to smother the track and models
  • Electrical elements, suitable for outdoor use (optional)
  • Track suitable for outdoor use
  • Models – buildings, bridges, tunnels, etc., all suitable for outdoor use
  • Trains suitable for outdoor use

Article Info

Categories: Home and Garden