Railway Garden


Railway Garden and Nature Adventure Garden

Railway Garden

The Paul Busse-designed Railway Garden opens in May. Follow four trains on various levels of track as they pass your favorite local landmarks made of all-natural materials, cross bridges, enter tunnels, and skirt ponds and waterfalls. The Railway Garden will be open through October 31. Fun for kids of all ages!

Be sure to explore the Children's Nature Adventure Garden, located just beyond the Railway Garden, and designed with little ones in mind! Explore the twists and turns of the arborvitae labyrinth, run over grassy moguls, balance on tree cookies, dig in the sand pit, and hide in the hobbit houses. Kids also will enjoy a huge human-size nest and exploring a willow tunnel. Remember to look for Lorenzo!

On the way to the Railway Garden, you will pass the new Patrick Dougherty stick sculpture, Take Five. Five separate rooms lean into each other, connected by doorways and "alleys," making it a fun place to explore and a great photo opportunity. 


Outdoor Railway Garden Overview

Respected landscape architect and naturalist, Paul Busse of Applied Imagination in Kentucky, created two permanent railway gardens especially for Fernwood. The outdoor railway garden opened to the public in June 2009, and the season is approximately May through October. The inside railway garden was installed just before the holidays in 2010. Both gardens are a fine blend of garden design, art, and history—all key elements of Fernwood. Fernwood will remain 
what we all have come to know, love, and support over the years but with an added incentive to return with family and friends. 

Paul Busse has designed and installed over 100 gardens across the U.S., including projects at Chicago Botanic Garden, Longwood Gardens, The New York Botanical Garden, and the holiday train garden at Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids. 
Paul and his team were at Fernwood the first two weeks of June 2009 to install the new outdoor railway garden. Trucks and trailers transported lumber, tools, track, trains, and crew—everything needed to create a railway garden. Plant material came from Fernwood's collection and local nurseries. Volunteers from the Southwestern Michigan Garden Railway Club came from Holland and Coloma to help with wiring and other tasks.

The artistry and architecture of our fun railway garden includes replicas of local historic buildings. Busse chose the historic Niles Depot as his first regional piece for the exhibit, and he has stated that it is one of his best and favorite depots to date. The small scale depot is incredibly life-like and readily recognizable. Another local landmark that Busse's team designed for Fernwood's railway garden is the historic Pears Mill in Buchanan, with birch bark representing the mill's  white siding. In addition, our permanent collection contains the St. Joseph Lighthouse, the Golden Dome of Notre Dame, and Niles' beautiful Chapin Mansion. 

Would you like to join our team of volunteers who keep the trains on track to delight children of all ages? Pick up or download a volunteer application today or give Judi Jason a call for more information. 

Niles' Chapin Mansion
Outdoor Railway Garden Features

* Approximate size 50' x 50'.

* Four trains, each running at different elevations: approximately ground level, one foot, six foot, and seven foot levels.

* The trains travel through three island gardens, under pedestrian walk-over bridges, and atop seven-foot-high trestle bridges.

* 510 feet of track.

* A seven-foot waterfall.

* Two mountain tunnels.

* A children's tunnel will lead little ones to the Discovery Garden beyond.

* A six-foot-tall mountain range with stream descending to a ten-foot-wide lake.

* Detailed miniature garden featuring dwarf evergreens, specially pruned trees, alpine plants, and natural materials such as stones, branches, and moss.

* Themed buildings from Paul Busse's collection that change each season.

* Scale models of local landmarks including the Niles Depot, Pears Mill, St. Joseph North Pier Lights, Notre Dame's Golden Dome, and Niles' Chapin Mansion, each created with natural materials such as pine cone scales, bark, seeds, twigs, moss, and more.

Fern Conservatory Railway Exhibit

Check out our railway exhibit inside the Fern Conservatory, too. The Fern Conservatory exhibit consists of two tracks—one suspended high from the ceiling, easily viewed from the balcony and the other track running lower, viewed by walking through the conservatory or from the Library windows on the lower level. The awesome trains are part of a generous donation from Mrs. Marilyn Beemer Wagner. Watch for a beautiful and festive holiday exhibit in the conservatory through the holidays.

About Paul Busse and Applied Imagination
Paul Busse is a graduate of The Ohio State University. He installed his first model railroad at the Ohio State Fair in 1982. His imaginative garden railroads grew from his training as a botanical architect and his love of trains. Busse and his team design and build the elements of each of his garden railways at his studio/workshop in Alexandria, Kentucky. The elaborate, three-dimensional structures are made of natural materials including mosses, twigs, leaves, bark, vines, and seeds. These creations are amazingly accurate in detail and look remarkably like they were constructed of materials used on the original buildings they represent. Only upon further inspection can the natural materials be identified.

To learn more about Paul Busse and his work, visit www.appliedimagination.biz. Watch video from KET Television about Applied Imagination, featurning Fernwood. For more information about Fernwood's railway garden, call 269.695.6491 or contact Fernwood

Nature Adventure Garden

Explore tunnels, meandering paths, hills to climb, hobbit houses, and twig structures in Fernwood's new Nature Adventure Garden. Made largely from artistically crafted natural materials, this garden blends well with the adjoining Railway Garden. The new garden is a freeform, organic, exploratory area that inspires unstructured play and a close connection with nature. Phase I is complete, and Fernwood greatly appreciates the support from the Huizenga Family Foundation, AEP, Purdue University landscape architecture students, W. Gary Smith Designs, and the talented Fernwood staff for making the vision for this special space a reality.


               stepping stones and Lorenzo 


               Hobbit Houses in Adventure Garden   

               Trees in Adventure Garden