Large Scale Central

Planting the Durango & Jasper

I will admit that, until now, I have shown no ability to keep plants alive (I once killed a cactus by underwatering it, for example). Given that the Durango & Jasper is meant to be a garden railroad, this clearly needs to change.

Starting from such a stunning position of ignorance, I’ve decided to take advantage of a lucky coincidence and hire Nancy Norris, the gardening editor for Garden Railway magazine, to plan, install, and teach me about these living things that I will be nurturing. She lives not far from me.

Nancy came by a couple of weeks ago for an initial chat:

We chatted about my vague plans and she seemed to like the general flow. She had lots of good ideas and we modified my initial thinking. Here’s a track plan with some colors to mark the different zones as I loosely described them to her:

In the forest area we have, of course, trees. The peninsula in the center is a log loading area and we chatted a bit about making that have some different colors and perhaps some bonsai-like plants. The desert area will have succulents and cacti of various kinds. The transition will attempt to make a smooth segue from forest to desert. We also spoke about adding some more drama in some of the rock formations.

Nancy will be here in a couple of days to take the next step of selecting specific plants and getting more detailed about what to do. The last time she was here we ended up buying a few hundred pounds of rocks, some that are a bit of a contrasting color to the existing granite, to build some interest near the right end of the transition area (we were talking about something we called a “rock fall” in that area).

I plan to document here the various decisions and the progress as we go along.


Hmm … I wonder how long before we see it in the mag… Keep us up to date … This should be a nice project to watch and learn …(

Great news Jim! Can’t wait to see the transition from dirt to planting.

Please keep us informed, I will be interested in your choice of “trees” that will work in your climate, which is similar (but a bit hotter) than here in coastal San Diego.

Also will be interested in where you buy your plants, Miniforest in Oregon might be a good choice, since Miniature Plant Kingdom in Sebastopol is gone now.


Greg: I’ll be documenting it all here (partly so I can remember what we plant later!) including where we end up buying. I think Nancy said we are zone 9? Temperature range is from 32F to 105F or so. I’ve added sunsails over much of the layout to try to temper the brutal summer afternoon sun. We’ll see how it all works.

Sean, Dan: thanks. I’m hoping this will be a fun and drastic transformation. I’m getting tired of dirt.

[edited to fix the zone]

I do have a list of plants, organized by trees, groundcovers, etc on my site that might be helpful:


There you go, Jim! Didn’t you say you were going to go all rock though? Anyway, finally! Green scenery to scale. And you have a great BAGRS plants resource in Nancy - she knows her stuff. Ready for the next open house, right? (

Jim, this should be a great journey. I look forward to watching the layout come to life, literally.

Rooster picks up the crackpipe that Jim left laying in the forest end. Takes a hit and sets it back down in the desert end. Then goes back to surfing Amtrak porn.

I am glad I am not the only black-thumbed garden railroader! I have started to just let grow what sprouts… If I ever need to replant, I will try to cultivate them and that will kill everything instantly! Looking forward to learning from you, Jim!


Black thumb? Sounds like gangrene to me…

I have a brown thumb. But, if I plant something and then leave it alone, it has a much better chance of surviving.

Nancy came by today and we looked at a lot of plants. More to come bu this was a good dump. A lot of these are for the desert and logging area, with some transition. The forest is tbd.

I promised to show lots of plants and some about where they are purchased. Many of these are labeled with the source but otherwise I don’t have much info about them. One is from one of Nancy’s friends…

Let’s start in the desert area with a few trees, beginning with the one from Nancy’s friend:

And some groundcover/cactus (sorry about not getting entire labels on these):

Some transition trees, also succulents but more treelike and less cactus like:

And some bonsai-ish trees for the log loading area:

Whew! That’s a lot of pictures! Some of the more expensive trees ($45!) are one of a kind in this garden. I’m counting on Nancy to teach me how to keep these things alive!

Nice, you will like the cotoneaster, I have one: (looks like an apple tree)

Ooh, looks like your little folks are gonna have a bumper crop of bananas.

I saw the hemp mixed in Jim

More cannabis? That darn stuff is in just about everything lately. (

David Maynard said:

Black thumb? Sounds like gangrene to me…

I have a brown thumb. But, if I plant something and then leave it alone, it has a much better chance of surviving.

I have an incredible ability to kill plants. Even sedum withers under my hand!

A rule of “brown thumb”; the more expensive the plant, the quicker it dies…(

I’m planting nothing but succulents anymore, stuff that’s prickly and hard to eradicate.