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Development of the
Sandflea and Redbud Garden Railway

Planting Trees and Ground Cover

In early April 2005 I began planting sedum as a ground cover in a few places. I took the "starts" from other areas of my yard.

In April I began purchasing plants and pruning them for planting in the garden. Most were in 1-gallon plastic containers. I bought 48 dwarf Alberta spruce that were in smaller containers; I transplanted them into 1-gallon containers. Cost was definitely a factor in plant selection. Following is a list of plants used:

Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca conica AKA Picea albertiana)
Dwarf nest spruce (Picea abies pumila)
Mugho pine (Pinus mugo mughus AKA Pinus mugo mugo)
Hick's yew (Taxus media hicksii AKA Taxus baccata x cuspidata 'Hicksii')
Dark green spreader Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata densiformis)
Golden Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii aurea)
Winter gem boxwood (Buxus microphylla 'winter gem')
Emerald gaiety Euonymus (Euonymus fortunei 'emerald gaiety')
Dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria 'nana')
Blue girl holly (Ilex merserveae 'blue girl' AKA Ilex aquifolium x crenata)
Variegated privet (Ligustrum sinensis variegata)
Tuscan Blue rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 'Tuscan Blue')
Dwarf heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica)
Greenmound juniper (Juniperus procumbens nana 'Green Mound')

Ground cover
Sedum (various Sedum species)
Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus 'nana')
Green creeping Jenny or moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia 'Green')
Golden creeping Jenny or moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia 'Gold')

Concave pruners To properly prune the plants, a good pair of bonsai concave pruners are helpful. I bought mine online from Dallas Bonsai Garden. They cost $41 with shipping.

The following photos show how some plants were pruned. In almost all cases, the lower branches were removed and foliage from the lower 1/4 to 1/3 was removed to expose the trunk. I was conservative in this first pruning; more pruning can be done when the plants are placed into "scenes." You can use copper wire (with the insulation stripped off) to reshape branches, but with over 100 plants, I thought it would be too much work to do that.

Two dwarf Alberta Spruce - untrimmed The two dwarf Alberta spruce on the left are untrimmed; the two below are the same plants after pruning. Most of the spruce I purchased had either one main trunk or two main trunks. For variety, I thinned a few higher up, and on a few I left a branch or two near the ground. I paid $2.50 each for these at a prominent discount store.

Two dwarf Alberta spruce - trimmed

Pruned and unpruned Mugho pines The photo on the left shows two Mugho pine, the one on the right unpruned, and the one on the left pruned.

Two Hick's yews after pruning The photo on the left shows two Hick's yews after pruning. The one on the left is pruned in a more upright style.

Two Yaupon hollies after pruning The photo on the left shows two Yaupon hollies after pruning. The one on the left has multiple trunks.

Two boxwood in the can from the Nursery The photo at the left shows two winter gem boxwood in the can. I selected these to save money (two for the price of one), even though their forms might be degraded by competition for space and sunlight. The photo below shows the two plants out of the can and separated. I usually pruned the roots back prior to repotting.

The two boxwood removed from the can and separated
The same two boxwood repotted and untrimmed

The two boxwood after repotting and trimming
The photo on the left above shows the same two plants repotted, each in its own can. Note that the plant on the left branches lower down, while the one on the right has a single trunk. The photo on the right above shows the two plants after pruning. For the plant on the left I mostly opened up the trunks, removed some lower branches, and trimmed back the top to a rounded form. For the one on the right, I pruned it back severely to show the trunk, and I reduced the top to a small ball. The upper foliage on both plants will increase in size and density with time. Branches that are wrapped with wire can be bent into more interesting forms. Boxwood train quite readily with wire. Because it was thinned so severely and is so open, the single-trunk tree on the right needs wiring.

Another boxwood prior to pruning The photo at the left shows another boxwood in the can. The photo below shows the same plant after pruning. I removed the foliage from the lower part of the tree to expose the branching, and trimmed the top into a rounded shape. Leaf size will decrease in time.

The second boxwood after pruning

Trains and plants The photos at the left and below show my two functioning trains. The larger engine is a Bachmann "Big Hauler" 4-6-0 Christmas Train; the train, sound car, and cars came in a set. The smaller engine is an LGB "Daisy" 0-4-0; the flat car and caboose were "kit-bashed" from a Bachmann caboose.

Trains and plants I placed a layer of peat moss on the ground to prevent erosion. I slowly began placing ground covering plants around the layout. However, in Oklahoma, selection of groundcovers that will tolerate the summer heat and the winter frost is low, and the prices are high.

Sedum bed after one year in early MayIn the spring of 2005, I experimented with several ground covers. I started with sedum for two reasons - 1) I could transplant it for free from an area in my flowerbeds, and 2) I knew that I could get thousands of "starts" from cuttings. I pulled and cut several hundred sedum stems and planted each in a shallow screwdriver hole. I got 100 percent growth. I had complete ground coverage in about three months. The photo at the left shows sedum after about a month out of winter dormancy. Note that it does creep over the track; I have to trim it back with scissors every few weeks in the spring and summer. The photo below shows how the sedum fills in around rocks and other features. The sedum dies back to ground level in the winter, but the root system shields the ground against erosion and rainsplash.

Sedum bed along rockwork

Mixed beds of sedum, golden moneywort, and green moneywort The photo on the left shows sedum and two varieties of moneywort - golden and green. The moneywort is a little out of scale, but it was relatively cheap and spreads fast. It creeps over the track and must be trimmed back regularly. The moneywort in the photo is still coming out of winter dormancy.

Mixed beds of sedum, golden moneywort, and green moneywort The photo on the left shows sedum (background) and two varieties (golden and green) of creeping jenny or moneywort in August 2006.

Bed adjacent to railway garden I also planted an adjacent bed (outside the railway garden) with a similar selection of plants to make the railway garden look less like an "island." Because the plants in this bed were not planted in the containers, they are expected to reach their normal sizes.

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Shoppe Foreman is the family website of Larry and Sandy Foreman.
Revised February 2018.