Grandparents often plan trips to amusement parks with their grandchildren, hoping to shape summer memories. Instead, Mike and Janet Elmore brought a theme park to their backyard, designing a railroad garden that would bring their family together more often than a yearly vacation.
"It all started with a track I bought for ninety-nine dollars one Christmas," recalls Mike. "It circled around the Christmas tree, and when we took down all the decorations, I told Janet I wanted to leave the train up year round." He kept the track, and shortly thereafter bought another, ultimately moving the train into their 25-x-60-foot backyard in Marysville, Washington.
When they began, the couple knew less about railroads and more about gardening, since Mike had owned a landscape design firm and was familiar with the art of matching plants with their proper habitats.
"We knew the first order of business was to organize the garden and create a home for the railroad," says Janet. "We were as passionate about the garden and its design as we were about the railroad." At the outset, they uprooted 30 fir trees, then laid a blanket of wood chips on the sloping lawn and waited for them to settle before they could begin constructing the railroad tracks.
In the interim, the Elmores selected plants from local nurseries and discovered a newfound appreciation for all things miniature. Standing like tiny soldiers around the garden are dwarf versions of lilacs, pieris, bamboo, Alberta spruce, and tiny crab apples. 15 varieties of hemlock and maple seedlings are pruned to keep them small. Native mosses create a soft tapestry of ground cover that also includes sedums, thyme, Corsican mint, New Zealand brass buttons, and cotula.
Continued on page 2: Sparking Imagination