Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It Takes a Village


It’s called The Holiday Train Show. It opens on Nov.23 at the New York Botanical Garden and stretches until January 11, 2009 when you might be able to see it with fewer crowds. Some people can’t get enough of the garden-gauge model trains. I’m mesmerized by the replicas of New York landmarks, designed and constructed by a botanical genius, Paul Busse, and his team from Applied Imagination in Alexandria, Kentucky.

Above, Van Cortlandt Manor, (1784) made of cedar bark, honeysuckle, willow, acorn caps, redbud pods and more. Of course take the kids, but this show fascinates adults as well; the numbers prove it and this is its 17th year.

The 140 build-
ings, four new
this year, are
made from bits
and pieces of
berries & bark,
twigs & moss,
pods & cones,
dried flowers &
leaves, and
other scaven-
ged plant
materials. Busse said, “When I saw the black locust tree fungus, that’s all I needed to make the spiral of the Guggenheim Museum.”

Live plant materials are part of the fantasy, adding a riot of color and texture. Where else can you find those Manhattan landmarks, the Flatiron Building, Empire State, Chrysler Building and the NY stock exchange within 4 feet of each other while trains whiz past? Viewers who know the city get a sense of discovery even before they read the explanatory signs. All boroughs are included, see the Guyon-Lake-Tyson House (1740), S.I. (below)















and Old Stone House (1699) Brooklyn (below) made of cedar bark roof shingles, willow walls, plum bark and wood fungus. Busse also used reeds, twisted sea grass, spruce cone scales, and birch & salt cedar twigs.

Since the train show is in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory of the New York Botanic Garden, it’s balmy indoors, whatever the chill outside.
For more details visit www.NYBG.org.

Your Own Village
After you’ve been inspired at the show, make your own village at home. Mr. Busse said that he’s done projects with kids using milk cartons as the base for the buildings. Take your kids out for a hunt in your garden, neighborhood and/or nearby park. Gather
twigs, dried
grasses and
leaves, cones,
pods, acorns
and other good
stuff. Here’s
what I gather-
ed from my garden and neighborhood, including slices of Osage oranges (see post dated 10/24/08) that I slowly dehydrated on trays in the oven. Color comes from a velvety sumac head that separates into small sections, rose hips and firethorn berries that will dry in place. I also have acorn caps, several kids of conifer pods, lambs’ear, birch bark , and sorghum that re-seeded itself from last year. Double-click on this any any other picture to get a really good view.
How-To
1. Gather pint, quart, or half gallon milk or juice cartons. Rinse well and dry the exterior.
2. Cut off a section of the bottom to make the size building you want. Here I’ve used one half gallon and one quart to make four buildings. The top halves have peaked ‘roofs’ and I’ve inverted the bottom halves to make flat roofs that can be tiled.
3. Take outdoors to a protected location, put down old newspaper and spray with flat black paint. This step is important so that if some spaces remain uncovered the brand names and ads on the carton won’t show through.
4. You can try to make a faithful rendition of your own home or a building near you, but it’s much easier and less frustrating to allow your creativity free reign. Use low temp glue, or a thick white craft glue for kids; or a hot glue gun for adults, who know how not to be burned and are ready to stick fingers too hot fingers in cold water.
5. Add what you need from the kitchen, like cinnamon sticks, dried lentils and beans. While Busse coats his buildings with urethane (used to protect boats and to give his buildings an antique finish), you’ll probably want to display yours indoors.
6. But first, take outdoors and spray several coats with a can of shellac for some protection. Place a grouping of buildings on a windowsill, shelf, mantle, or tray in the middle of a dining table, or under a tree. Surround with cut evergreens as you wish.

3 comments:

Marty Ross said...

Hello LNs: I love the little homemade village, especially, it reminds me of the LookAlikes. I am going to try this on my desk, but I assure you there will be no room for a train to come through. Your new blog is fun. Visit mine (a slow blog, see today's NYT), if you have a chance: http://martyross-gardenvariety.blogspot.com/.
Here's cheer, Marty

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Marty, You had me googling for my first view of the LookAlikes, producing a 5am chuckle.
Email me a picture of your creation with or without the train? regards,ESP

A. Rose said...

Hi Ellens.
You both have very cool ideas.
My school is really into nature.
This could be the perfect project
for my class. It might be really
cool. Thanks,

A. Rose

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