Marc Horowitz and his wife, Barbara, are devotees of garden railroading, a hobby that combines model railroads with gardening strategies. The practice originated in 19th century England and has become popular in some regions of the United States, including Colorado. Mark and Barbara, who live in Denver, are among the world's experts in this field. Mark is founder and editor of Garden Railways magazine, the foremost publication on the subject. He and his wife will talk about "Garden Railroads Around the World" at the Business of Arts Center on Saturday, April 29, from 1-3 p.m.
What is garden railroading? A railroad gardener is presented with a set of challenges different from the regular gardener. The idea is to keep the plant material in scale with the model train by searching out plants and trees that are small in scale or genetically dwarfed. A whole genre of gardening has grown up around this. It's become a sub-hobby in itself. Aficionados can get pretty arcane about details. It's particularly popular in Colorado, California, Pennsylvania, Washington and Texas. Denver is home to the oldest garden railway society in the U.S.
How did this hobby come about? It originated in 19th century England when railroads were transforming society and capturing the British imagination. Everybody wanted to be part of it, and building model railroads was one way to do it. The first models were a pretty good size, not really suitable for indoor use -- particularly in England, where people's indoors typically aren't as large as ours. So they built them in their backyards, which they call "gardens."
How did you and your wife come to be interested in it? I've been interested in toy trains and model railroading since I was a little boy, and my wife is a devoted gardener. We combined our interests after discovering garden railways during a trip to England in 1979. I read some articles on it and tracked one down in a town outside London. It was a life-changing experience.
Did you and your wife meet through this hobby? No, we met at the University of Texas while I was a grad student in architecture and she was an undergraduate in fine arts. I played the recorder and was putting together an early music group. I needed a cello to round out the group. I was acquainted with Barbara's sister, who told me that Barbara was a cellist. Our experience with garden railroading, though, is pretty typical. Lots of couples do this together. In the process, I've learned a lot about gardening and Barbara has learned a lot about model railroading. It's a pleasant and interesting pastime.
What led you to start Garden Railways? When we went to England in 1979, I had an architectural design company. Seeing a garden railroad in England inspired me to set up a side business importing miniature steam-powered locomotives from England to the U.S. In 1982, I started a newsletter as a way to interest more people, and two years later we started the magazine with me as the editor and Barbara, the horticultural expert. Our first press run was 325. It has grown since then to 37,000. It's now what I do for a living. I'm one of those lucky guys whose hobby is his profession.
Is this a pastime for rich dilettantes who have scads of leisure time and drink tea with their pinkies sticking out? Not really. You can buy a starter-set train for a hundred bucks. On the other hand, there's no limit to what you can spend. Most trains are electric-powered, some by radio control, some by steam. We offer a video for beginners called How To Build Your Garden Railway.
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