Garden Railroad display reimagined at Phipps

Minature locomotives roam about the fairy tale towns in the central room, bringing classic childhood tales to life. (credit: Jade Crockem/Junior Photographer) Minature locomotives roam about the fairy tale towns in the central room, bringing classic childhood tales to life. (credit: Jade Crockem/Junior Photographer)

Phipps Conservatory is well known for its elaborate botanical gardens, plant collections, and seasonal exhibits. Some crowd favorites at the conservatory include the Japanese Bonsai displays, the Butterfly Garden, and the Orchid Garden. Along with the permanent exhibits and gardens, Phipps hosts a variety of artists, exhibits, and displays that interchange throughout the seasons.

I had the pleasure of visiting one of Phipps’s newest garden exhibits: Garden Railroad, which is located in the south conservatory. This exhibit has previously been a crowd-pleaser, but has been newly re-imagined into a wonderfully detailed world of toy railroads and ornate miniature towns that tell the tales of classic childhood fables and fairytales. Jordyn Melino designed Garden Railroad in collaboration with horticulturist Aaron D’Addio and animatronics technician Paul Widek.

Being both a fan of childhood classics and a Phipps Conservatory enthusiast, I was excited to visit the Garden Railroad exhibit. In true Phipps’ fashion, the room was filled with the fresh, relaxing aroma of plants and flowers, perfectly intertwined with the miniature landscapes that filled the center-most portion of the room. Upon walking into the room, you are immersed in a variety of fairy tales, ranging from There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe to The Little Engine That Could.

As I walked around the garden, one of the first tales that was on display was Peter Pan. I was pleased to discover that the exhibit featured interactive elements. When I pressed the buttons in front of the various fairy tales and fables, I saw the exhibit truly come to life. I pressed the button in front of the Peter Pan display and watched with satisfaction as Captain Hook’s pirate ship was chased around a small pond by the menacing Tick-Tock the Crocodile. As the ship sails around, a whimsical voice is heard in the background, “Second star to the right and straight on till morning.”

Up next was The Little Engine That Could. I was pleased to find out the interactive buttons accompanied not only the Peter Pan display, but the majority of the displays within Garden Railroad. Upon pressing the button, The Little Engine That Could chugs up a steep hill, chanting “I think I can, I think I can,” all the way up. The display has the viewer practically chanting along with The Little Engine as he finally makes it over the top of the hill and rides down the other end in victory.

Moving on in the exhibit, the stories of Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Paul Bunyan are told all throughout the gardens. Although each of the displays tells its own story, Garden Railroad has a wonderful sense of cohesion and coherence. The landscape is interlocked and the towns of each fairy tale spill over into the next. Several interlacing railroad tracks traverse the miniature towns as trains zig and zag all over the room, shining light onto the plants and flowers that outline the displays.

Lastly, I came to The Three Little Pigs display. The detailing of the pigs three houses was quite impressive, and the overall scene was well complemented alongside the forest-like display of the plants. I looked around in excitement as I searched for this display’s interactive button. I pressed the button in anticipation, and I was not let down. Out from behind the trees came the big bad wolf on his search for the three little pigs, hitching a ride on the back of the train. At this point, all hope of remaining maturity went out the window. The exhibits brought out fond memories of childhood, and it was difficult not to act like a giddy little kid. I looked around to see if I was alone in my feelings of childlike wonder, and as expected, was not. The exhibit put a smile on the faces of child and adult onlookers alike.

Whether you’re in the mood to spend an evening immersed in your favorite childhood fairy tales, or you just need a reason to spend a peaceful evening away from the stressful life of a Carnegie Mellon student, I suggest visiting Garden Railroad. The garden exhibit will be featured during the entire month of November.