Does your day job have anything to do with trains?
Not really. This is my hobby, garden railroading—building a model railroad outside. You use dwarf plants and other landscaping materials to create a landscape, all in a scale. A big portion of the hobby is training plants, like bonsai.
What scale did you use for the Holiday Express?
One-half inch equals one foot, so a box car is around 18 inches long.
How big are the trees?
The ones in scale are probably a couple feet tall. I use a lot of dwarf conifers, particularly Mugo Pines and Alberta Spruce, dwarf hemlocks. I also use other, bigger trees, to create the green backdrop you'd be seeing if there was a real train in the distance. The bigger plants divide the space up, create a perspective, so it looks like the train is going somewhere when it's out of sight.
Do you have any formal education with plant science?
I've got a B.S. in horticulture and I've had a landscaping business for 30 years. I might mention, though, that the way I got started was hiking in the Smokies. A lot of the trails are old railroad grades, used to get the logs out when they logged there in the early 20th century. I started studying the history of the old logging railroads because I hiked so much and I discovered garden railroading, and one thing just led to another.
How long does it take to build a train car?
I've been doing garden railroading for 25 years, but for this my landscaping company's crew of 13 men took a week to make the whole display. The second week of January, we'll tear it down, pack it up and take it home—even the trees.
Holiday Express at the UT Gardens, Fri.-Sun. through Jan. 4, utgardens.tennessee.edu,