“A plant based homage to New York City,” as Carrie Rebora Barratt, CEO and President of the New York Botanical Garden calls it, has sprouted in the Bronx. The Holiday Train Show is back and bigger than ever this year as the “mini metropolis” made out of plant materials takes over a new space adjacent to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory (The Conservatory is undergoing restoration). The 28th annual train show features miniature versions of buildings found throughout New York City, and the Hudson Valley, constructed out of natural materials such as leaves, acorns, twigs and seeds, arranged around a web of tracks with model trains zipping by. New to the show this year are plant-based versions of the historic structures of Central Park.
Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Terrace, the Dairy, the Namburg Bandshell, the Bow Bridge and the Oak Bridge make up the fleet of new replicas you will find at the train show this year. They join existing replicas of the Swedish Cottage, Marionette Theater, the Old Bandstand and several Fifth Avenue museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, and the Guggenheim, to create a tableau of the Central Park area of Manhattan. The fairytale-like nature of the structures, originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, are recreated using twisted branches, pieces of acorns, chestnut bark and more natural materials. A gourd was used to create the curved top of the bandshell.
The way the trains travel through the show is also new this year. To make the experience more immersive and inclusive than ever before, train tracks were installed at varying heights. One train may be be chugging by over your head as another passes by your knees and yet another barrels along at eye level. The model trains, which are of the larger G-scale variety, weave through scenes of buildings set up according to location. There are signs that denote whether you are looking at places in Brooklyn, the Bronx, or Queens and so on.
All of the figures in the scenes are created by artists at Applied Imagination, a Kentucky based company that has been bringing the train show to life since 1992. Founded by landscape architect and train enthusiast Paul Busse in 1991, the “botanical architecture” company is now run by Busse’s daughter Laura Busse. The crew at Applied Imagination works on the train show all year round, collecting new materials, building new replicas and fixing up old ones. The model of the Haupt Conservatory alone took over 600 hours to create. There are some structures in the show that have been on display for more than twenty years.
The team starts with researching the buildings of New York City and deciding which iteration of a particular building they want to capture. Some of the buildings you see in the show no longer exist in life. Next, a base is made out of foam and all of the architectural details, recreated with plant materials, are added to that base to make the building come to life. Laura Busse says working on this project has made her and the team look at nature in a whole new way. “Forms in architecture parallel forms in nature,” she says, and the team is constantly collecting materials they think may be useful. The Macy’s sign is made of barley and red pepper flakes, shell fungus mimics the effects of Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiraling design for the Guggenheim, and giant palm leaves top the TWA Flight Center model.
After the pieces are shipped to New York from Kentucky, it takes two weeks to install them. This year, since they are not set amongst the existing greenery inside the conservatory, the team had to bring in extra plants for the backdrop. The installation is filled in with over 500 Birch tree limbs and about eight, 3,500-pound batches of cedar bark from Kentucky.
You don’t have to be a train enthusiast or a kid to enjoy the train show. The intricacy of the replicas and creative use of natural materials are enough to impress any New Yorker or visitor looking for a fun holiday activity. The Holiday Train Show is open now and will be on view through January 26th, 2020. There are many different ways you can experience the show, whether you attend during the day or in the evening for a Bar Car Night or other special programming. Check out all of the events surrounding the Holiday Train show here! Check out more photos from the show below: