“Look! Look! There goes the zippy car!” My 10-year-old daughter squealed and pointed as a small electric streetcar decorated like a bumblebee whizzed by. The moist air in the New York Botanical Gardens‘ Haupt Conservatory was heavy with the fragrance of tropical plants. Our ears filled with the whirring of the model trains as they traveled along tracks nestled among moss, creeping ivy and the wispy fronds of ferns. With only three days until Christmas, a visit to the Garden’s annual Holiday Train Show was the perfect way to get into the spirit and start the kids’ school break.
Creating the Show
The Holiday Train Show is designed and constructed by
botanical architect Paul Busse and his team at his Kentucky-based landscape design company Applied Imagination. Now in its 23rd year, the show features over 150 of the most lauded buildings in New York and more than a dozen whimsical, electric trains that chug along one-quarter mile of track. One part of the exhibit showcases the techniques and materials used to create the models. Acorns, willow bark, and tiny pine cones are only some of the natural building supplies Busse incorporates into his work.
Warm, amber-colored resin forms windows. Tiny pine cones and walnut shells adorn facades. Twigs and small branches come together to form bridges, gazebos and trestles. My two younger daughters love spending time scouring the small woods around our yard for cozy nooks and crannies in which to build fairy houses. They were enthralled by the way well-known gems like the Flatiron and Chrysler Buildings had become veritable palaces for the woodland pixies of their imaginations.
A Stroll Through New York
Walking through the conservatory, visitors are treated to an architectural tour of New York. All of the city’s iconic buildings are here along with many of the historic homes and structures of the Hudson Valley. Highlights of the display include the Brooklyn Bridge, which stretches overhead from one side of the conservatory to the other, and a stunning miniature of the conservatory itself surrounded by soft moss, a variety of orchids and twinkling holiday lights.
Each botanical creation is labeled with a small sign of identification, but part of the fun is trying to recognize the buildings without peeking. The skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Grand Central Station were easy for us to spot as were Sunnyside, Van Cortlandt Manor and Kykuit, three of the Historic Hudson Valley properties near our home in Tarrytown. Others, like several grand residences of the gilded age, were less familiar to the kids and myself alike. Heading toward the end of the exhibit I am filled with nostalgia at the sight of the old Penn Station, a remarkable Beaux Arts building that was tragically demolished in the 60s, paving the way for New York’s landmarks preservation law—a law which likely saved many of the beautiful structures featured in the exhibit that adorn New York today.
Given the proximity to Christmas, a stop in the garden’s gift shop was a must.
The entire store was decorated with full sized Christmas trees, each one bedecked with unique, nature-themed ornaments. Along with holiday baubles, the shop offers housewares, textiles, clothing and accessories, gardening supplies, stationery and a bounty of books. A pair of delicate, oak leaf earrings made from actual leaves was calling my name, but I fought the urge, purchasing instead a special Holiday Train Show snowglobe for my mother’s collection and several blown-glass ornaments for friends.
The Holiday Train Show at New York’s Botanical Garden takes place each year from late November through mid-January. Tickets can be purchased online and are for a time-specific entry.