The Geologically Improbable Railroad


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If you've scanned through the previous pages, you'll note that there is not a lot of "garden" in this garden railway. I have an inherently brown thumb and if anything actually grows it is because either it's a weed and it got there by itself, or I planted it and it grew in spite of me.

first_track_sep96.jpgIn any event, this page serves as a summary of the history of the plantings on the GIRR. I am at the stage of serious rehabilitation of GIRR mountain and will soon start the initial plantings on the rest of the railroad.

This is the first photo after the track was laid. Geologically Improbable Mountain is just two piles of dirt in the background.

GI MountainSome time later, I planted a bunch of pixie Alberta Spruce on the front mountain. There was nothing on the back mountain. Alas, but the pixie Alberta spruce were all dead in a year. They couldn't handle the direct sunlight. There is a juniper nana growing in the foreground, it has hung in there. Not very visible at the left rear is a lavender. It survived for more than 5 years but it eventually died too.

gi_mtn_18apr99.jpgIn April 1999, the pixie Alberta spruce were replace with dwarf Alberta spruce, many of which survived at the initial writing of this page in 2008. Unfortunately, due to a drip system failure, most of the ones on the back mountain died.

The ground cover on the front mountain was a combination of baby's tears, Scotch and Irish moss and blue star creeper. However, the baby's tears are starting to take over.

girr_undeveloped_area.jpgThe rest of the railroad is devoid of plantings, including weeds. For years, I had been patrolling that area and killing anything that came up. The only stuff growing there is from windblown seed.

000822_girr_mtn.jpgAs of 2000, the baby's tears has taken over but the rest of the plantings are still doing well. There is a "miniature" elm, a dwarf pomegranate and two other trees (I don't remember what the are called) on the on the back mountain. The lavender shows up in this photo quite well at the left. There is also a Berkshire juniper on the top of the front mountain that seemed well suited to it's location.

However, this is where I made a serious mistake. I ripped out the baby's tears and planted Korea grass instead. Somehow I though that it would be slow growing, but tough. I was right about the tough part.

070824_girr_juniper_nana_overgrown.jpgAs of 2007, the railroad had fallen into disrepair. The Korea grass was nice and green, but it was choking everything else too. This stuff is over a foot thick.

070824_girr_korea_grass_overgrown.jpgKorea grass spreads via runners. Here it has spread over and through the track on GI Mountain. It was a job to hack that stuff back just so that I could run trains again.

081105_girr_back_mountain_5952.jpgAs of November 2008, this is what the back mountain looks like. The elm doesn't look so big, but this is only one year's regrowth after I hacked it completely back to an 8" diameter stump. A rosemary is growing along the side of the mountain. About a year ago, it was hacked back to a little bush. All but two of the Alberta spruce have died. One is in the shade on the left and the other is barely visible behind the rosemary.

081011_girr_mtn_korea_grass_5843.jpgI needed to get rid of the Korea grass. It was choking my remaining spruce, it was invading the railroad and it totally obscured the drip irrigation system, which was apparently still partially working. I had had some drip failures and some of the spruce on the front mountain had died too. I needed to get rid of that stuff so that I could save the rest of it.

I tried a couple of things. The brown area in the middle was where I had literally pulled out great hunks of the stuff. This was hard work. I had to hack at it with a folding camp saw and then pull like crazy. It was slow going. The tan areas around it is where I had treated some of it with RoundUp. That stuff died, but it was as tough as ever. This stuff just wasn't going to fold up and go away without a fight.

081104_girr__korea_grass_gone_5947.jpgOver a period of weeks, I cut, whacked and pulled most of the stuff off the mountain. After the tall stuff had been scythed down with the camp saw, I used a weed whacker to grind up much of what was left. There is still a thick thatch of runners at ground level. I intend to watch this stuff for weeks and do spot treatments with RoundUp when there is absolutely zero breeze so that wind carried spray won't get on the spruce.

All of the spruce's lower foliage has died because it was smothered in the Korea grass. The large open area had several trees in it at one time, but a drip failure had allowed them to die.

081104_girr__korea_grass_gone_5948.jpgThis is the other side of the mountain. The original density of trees is still there. I hadn't seen the rockwork along the side in many years.

081104_girr__hacking_at_back_mountain_5949.jpgI also started hacking at the back mountain. The Korea grass had used the pomegranate above as a support and grown out so that it was actually overhanging the track below. As of Nov 2008, I have not cleared the back mountain.

081105_girr_drip_installed_5950.jpgWhen I finally got deep enough to find parts of the old drip system, I realized that the stuff was shot. The hose had hardened, the drippers were brittle and all my hacking had torn parts of it up. I simply ripped up what I could find and installed new stuff. However, this time, there are TWO drip lines going everywhere to provide redundant drippers and drip lines for every plant on the mountain. If a dripper plugs up, there is a second one there to handle the load.

081105_girr_mtn_5954.jpgAs of the creation of this page, the new drip system is in on the front mountain. Much of the Korea grass has been hacked on the back mountain. When it is gone and the other plantings severely pruned, I will install new drip stuff there. Then it is time to find some new ground cover for both mountains and perhaps some new trees.

After the mountains are done, then it is time to start working on plantings in the rest of the railroad. There are drip distribution points under some of the buildings in the town. I just need to decide what to plant where and run some drip hoses to them.

081113_girr_mountain_stripped_of_korea_grass_5984.jpgThe Korea grass has all been ripped out and the drip system rebuilt. There are probably thousands of viable Korea grass roots in the ground and some will resprout however some careful applications of RoundUp every couple of weeks will take care of them.

090307_girr_plants_unknown_6852.jpgThis little shrub has been out there for years, I don't remember planting it nor do I know what it is. It appears to be some sort of dwarf elm. It has hardly grown in at least several years and it has survived in spite of neglect and irrigation failures. If I can identify it, I'll try to find more of these.

After some digging around, Todd Brody identified this plant as a Hokkaido elm because it is clearly in the elm family, grows very slowly, tolerates direct sun and is tough as nails. Todd has several of these on his layout. Now finding more of these is another matter entirely...

090307_girr_plants_berkshire_juniper_6853.jpgThe Berkshire Juniper on the top of the front mountain is looking a little bedraggled. This is because it had to strain to keep it's head above the Korea grass and all of the foliage that was not near the tips died. These are nice plants, if allowed to grow unhindered by invaders, it would do much better.

The following photos are of new plants that I bought on March 7, 2009 at the M&M Nursery in Orange, California. This is primarily a documentation of what I planted where so that I can later determine what worked and what didn't.

090307_girr_new_plants_golden_dream_boxwood_6862.jpgThis one is called a Golden Dream Boxwood. The tag says that it can grow to 3 foot high and wide, but the guy at the Nursery showed me one that had been trimmed regularly and it was only about a foot and a half high and looked like a regulation tree.

Golden Dream BoxwoodThe Golden Dream Boxwood has been planted in a location such that when it fills out, it will obscure the wiring and drip distribution head.

090307_girr_new_plants_golden_honeysuckle_6864.jpgThis is called a Golden Honeysuckle. It can grow a little larger than the boxwood, about 4 to 6' high and wide, but also trims well.

Golden HoneysuckleI've planted it and some Elfin Thyme on "boot hill" next to the church. I want to to make some shade for the thyme and to mark the cemetery.

090307_girr_new_plants_dwarf_hinoki_cypress_6866.jpgThis is a bonsai trees, a Dwarf Hinoki Cypress. It is claimed to be a very slow grower so it won't get a whole lot bigger than this.

Dwarf Hinoki CypressI put the Dwarf Hinoki Cypress in between a farmhouse and a barn.

090307_girr_new_plants_foemina_juniper_6868.jpgThe Foemina Juniper is another nice bonsai tree that was claimed to be slow growing.

Foemina JuniperI planted this one is a "planter" built into the platform of the Santa Fe style station. It is flanked by a couple of small patches of Elfin Thyme.

090307_girr_new_plants_thyme_elfin_6870.jpgElfin Thyme is supposed to grow slowly into a thick mat but never get very high. I've planted it as a ground cover around other larger plants and in a couple of shaded spots between buildings. However, this stuff is claimed to be sun loving and will grow in direct sun as well. We'll see how this goes.

Elfin ThymeTwo slugs to Elfin thyme went next to a small house, hopefully it will fill in the gaps and look a little like a lawn.

090307_girr_new_plants_herniaria_glabra_6872.jpgHerniaria glabra is another ground cover that I'm going to try out. According to the tag, it only grows 2 to 4" high, but can spread to 2 feet.

Herniaria glabraThe Herniaria glabra was planted on the other side of the farmhouse.

090307_girr_new_plants_sedum_hispanicum_6874.jpgThere are a lot of varieties of sedum, this one is called sedum hispanicum, or Stonecrop. Sedums are succulents. This one is claimed to grow only 3 to 6" thick but can spread to a foot.

StonecropThis one went into the yard of another house to fill out an otherwise empty spot.

090307_girr_new_plants_sedum_anglicum_6876.jpgAnother similar sedum is called Sedum Anglicum or English Stonecrop. It should grow to be similar to the other sedum.

English StonecropThe other sedum, English Stonecrop, went on the other side of the same house.

090307_girr_new_plants_thymus_x_citriodorus__silver_thyme_6878.jpg Silver thyme is another sun tolerant variety of thyme. It grows a little thicker than some of the other thyme varieties, about 6" and can spread to a couple of feet.

Silver ThymeThis Silver thyme went across the street from the sedums, next to another house.

090307_girr_new_plants_thymus_x_citriodorus__lime_thyme_6881.jpgI would guess that Lime Thyme gets it's name from it's bright green color. It should grow to the same size as the Silver Thyme.

Lime ThymeThe Lime thyme went into an otherwise empty spot at the far end of the main station.

0903012_girr_new_plants_yatsubusa_6913.jpgI made another stop at M&M a couple of days later and bought some more stuff. This is a Yatsubusa, it tolerates direct sun but likes lots of water. It can be used for bonsai.

0903012_girr_new_plants_yatsubusa_planted_6918.jpgI planted in in a slightly shaded spot between two trestles in an attempt to conceal the wiring underneath. I expect it to outgrow it's space so I'll need to prune this one heavily.

0903012_girr_new_plants_dymondia_6917.jpgDymondia is a tough, drought resistant ground cover that is not too invasive. It can be walked on without damage. I got a whole flat of this stuff with the intent of planting it around the perimeter of the town.

0903012_girr_new_plants_dymondia_planted_6919.jpgThe Dymondia goes between a rock wall and the track. It's spot varies from about 8" 6" to 18" wide in a strip maybe 40' long.

0903012_girr_new_plants_succulent_1_6915.jpgI bought some succulents without a lot of thought as to where I would plant them. This one looks a little like a cactus but without the needles.

0903012_girr_new_plants_succulent_26916.jpgThis other succulent also looks like a cactus. I might plant some actual cactus later but the spines need to be carefully considered.

0903014_girr_hokkaido_elm_comparison_6926.jpgM&M Nursery ordered some Hokkaido elm trees and called me a couple of days ago when they came in. By the time I got there, there were only two left at $12 each. I took them both. This is one of the new ones (on the right) next to my 10 year old one. The new one is about half the size, but that is the only difference I can detect. The tree is rated for partial shade but mine has done fine in direct midday sun although it falls in the shade in the early morning and late afternoon.

Update, November 11, 2009

Eight months after the last round of planting, there have been some changes. My hard won Hokkado elms both died in their pots before I decided where to plant them. This was a bummer. I also lost a couple of the plantings from March.

091111_girr_plants_dead_lime_thyme_7876.jpgThe Lime Thyme that I planted near the passenger station is pretty well dead. There is a little green on it, but it has been degrading rapidly even though it has received plenty of water.

091111_girr_plants_cactus_succlent_planted_7879.jpgThe two succulents I bought eight months ago did survive in their pots. I hadn't decided where to plant them. I took out the Lime Thyme and planted this cactus lookalike succulent in it's place.

091111_girr_plants_dead_sedum_hispanicum_7877.jpgThe sedum hispanicum (Stonecrop) that I planted at the other end of the town was also fading fast. I was able to just scrape it off the ground. The other varieties of Stonecrop were still doing well.

091111_girr_plants_succulent_planted_7878.jpgI planted the other unidentified succulent in it's place. These two succulents had been surviving with little water in their pots. The soil was bone dry when I transplanated these. We'll see how they do in the ground.

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© 2008-2009 George Schreyer
Created Nov 5, 2007
Last Updated November 11, 2009