Each spring, Penn’s Morris Arboretum opens its Garden Railway Display, a miniature world set in a summer garden, complete with tiny replicas of historic structures made entirely of leaves, bark, vines and twigs.
This year’s theme is “Painted Ladies,” brightly colored 19th-century homes built in a mix of Carpenter Gothic, Queen Anne and other architectural styles, embellished with decorative porches, towers and turrets.
Locally, Cape May, N.J., is resplendent in life-size examples of these Victorian houses. But if Philadelphians can’t get to the shore, they can enjoy the Garden Railway’s recreated village filled with this fanciful architecture.
During the Railway Grand Opening, on Saturday, May 28, from 1 to 3 p.m., volunteers dressed in period garb will stroll the pathways. Children can make crafts and eat free ice cream, while supplies last.
Horticulturist Iana Turner, who oversees the section of the garden where the railway runs, says there will be 13 Victorian-themed buildings, in addition to the 49 regular structures permanently on display.
“This year, we’re very excited to have some of the buildings from the region,” she says. “Five are replicas of homes in Cape May.”
Turner says the railway’s themes have varied over its 14-year history, from great American train stations, such as the one at Gettysburg, to lighthouses, fairytale railroads and architectural wonders, which included a model of the Taj Mahal.
Each year, 15 professionals and volunteers spend one intense week putting the display together. “Everything is made out of natural materials so we’re constantly repairing and refurbishing,” Turner explains. “We’re replacing four bridges this year, and we're making changes to the track to make it exciting for returning visitors.”
“All it takes is hearing the squeals and laughter of the children on opening day to know it was well worth it,” she says.
The Garden Railway has spurred three special events: Pennsylvania Train Weekend from June 11-12; Train Enthusiast Night on June 16; and Circus Week at the Garden Railway from June 26-July 4, celebrating the first circus held in Philadelphia in 1793.
The Railway will be open through Labor Day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, except on Thursdays, when it’s open until 8 p.m. PennCard holders get in for free.