Modelling Trees and Shrubs

By Alan Pettitt

The Bedfordshire 16mm Railway Club has been in existance for over 20 years, as has the club's layout 'Ridgmont. Over the years the layout has gradually developed, though one problem area has always been the modelling of trees and shrubs. With the club being invited to display at Stoneleigh AGM in 2007, I was asked if I could spruce up the scenic aspect of the layout by bringing it to show standard.

Both artificial and scratch-made greenery have their good and bad points, but fortunately mother nature has provided a convincing alternative in the form of Yarrow (Achillia millefolium), a plant that readily grows on the roadside, in meadows or in wasteland. As well as being a medicinal herb with a wide variety of uses, it is one of the small number of plants that provide useful raw material for the modeller.

Yarrow typically grows up to 3 feet tall, with ferny leaves on the long stems and multiple white flower heads. The time to look for it is in the late Autumn when the flowers have got to seed or dried out. Whilst you may only need the top section, take as much as possible of the stem as this is useful tohave when spraying. The first job is to select the best plants from your harvest, then strip the leaves from the stem. Next, I usually spray the dried flower heads using a mixture of dark and grass green Humbrol enamel paints. I usually do this outside using a cardboard box as a cheap alternative to a spray booth. Make sure it is not too wind a day and that neither your's or your neighbour's washing arn't positioned to get an unwelcome coating of green haze!

To make a tree or shrub I find you need two or three plants. the arrangement is very much down to your choice and of course to its likely situation within your layout. to form the trunk I bind the stems together using one inch wide gummed brown paper tape, the type used by framers to seal up the back of paintings. Use plenty of the wetted tape, starting at the base of the flower heads and working down to a lenght of about four inches. Once fully dry, you can manipulate the flower heads into the final form you want. To cement them into place I use Uhu glue, applied to where the flower heads meet the gummed paper on the newly-formed trink.

The trunk itself can now be modelled. I use a mixture of Polyfilla, wood glue and brown paint, applied to the trunk and then modelled to look like bark. With shrubs this would be barely necessary, although some work is required to mask the brown paper. In general, the trees I made are about twelve inches in height. The final job is to touch up the trunk and greenery and then apply a liberal coating of unscented hair-spray to hold everything in place.

On our club layout, sockets have been made in the scenery using short sections of brass tubing, into which the various trees and shrubs can placed in and out. This is a lot more secure than (say) blue tacking the trees into place.

I have found the trees and shrubs modelled in this way can last for years. My outdoor layout at home runs through a garden shed where there is a two foot high tree which I made over ten years ago, from what is little more than a roadside weed!

Image of model trees