Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Pam Martin

Niwot hobbyist publishes how-to article


March 31, 2017

Model railroad enthusiasts learn from gardening experts

For many people the change in weather means an early jump on spring gardening tasks—amending the soil, if you didn’t get to it in the fall, lightly fertilizing spring bulbs, turning and watering the compost pile, or starting seeds indoors to plant after the last frost, typically in May. For Niwot model railroad hobbyist and gardener, Curtis Jones, the unseasonal weather has his Ayn Rand-inspired John Galt line’s garden already making a show in his front yard.

The April issue of Garden Railways magazine will feature a story Jones wrote about gardening techniques that lend verisimilitude to a model railroad “set-up.” The 30-year-old magazine features outdoor, large-scale model railroading tips, product reviews and photo spreads.

Jones takes a creative approach to his 18-square-foot garden, which is seen by “passengers” on his John Galt model railroad. The set-up consists of 220 feet of track, more than 100 species of plants, 60 species of “mostly realistic but a few fantasy animals” (including a T-Rex), some structures, a mountain with a tunnel and a farm.

“Scale vehicles and figures add veracity to the agrarian scene,” Jones writes, but he admits that he appreciates an element of whimsy. So anyone passing by will see a cart full of recently dug carrots that dwarf the miniature farmer working in the field beside it.

As the co-founder of the seed company Botanical Interests, Jones’s article combines gardeni - “Remember that lettuces don’t germinate well in the warm soils of summer, so mulch the soil with a thin layer of compost…” - with the artistry involved in setting a scene. He recommends planting seeds in rows that are too close together “for better realism,” or just two-three inches apart, and trimming back the lettuce when the leaves grow too big.

His garden contains a variety of radishes, lettuce, peas, beans, carrots and a few small marigolds. Arugula and other greens such as kale and radicchio are also recommended, along with herbs such as parsley, purple basil, and cilantro, or dwarf flower varieties including zinnias, California poppies and alyssum.

“Squash, pumpkins, and watermelons…are probably not good candidates,” he writes, “because even their smallest leaves are way too big.” But he does encourage planting curved rows, because they’re “attractive and help to make your farm unique.”

For hard-core realism, the magazine’s home page highlights an article with pictures of Anita ivy, which can be trimmed and trained to “make a believable grape arbor,” and Mexican false heather that can be used on a landscape to mimic small apple trees in bloom. As with any hobby, there are those who are sticklers for the rules, and others who prefer to draw outside the lines.

Jones’s approach falls somewhere in between. He said he followed this particular route, with small and not-so-small plantings, “‘Cause I thought, what the heck?”

For anyone interested in seeing the John Galt line in action, along with its elaborate gardens and landscaping, Jones said he plans to offer showings to local residents. Look in the Courier’s Community Calendar section for the announcement.


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