What a wonderful world

I see trees of green – red roses too
I see ’em bloom – for me and for you
And I think to myself – what a wonderful world.

No, you’ve not on the wrong blog. This is still Playing Trains, but I do love that song.

So why the waxing lyrical?

There are almost as many different approaches to modelling trees as there are modellers. Everyone has their own idea of how realistic they want their scenery to be, they also know their limitations for skill, time and money. All factors which influence the final outcome of the layout.

So, what’s my approach? Well, it all depends upon what I’m modelling.


The simplest possible way around the tree issue is to model a scene which does not have trees. Arundale for instance has little room for any greenery other than the weeds on the track and Rio Paleta is a desert. Neither of these actually need trees, but they do have a few small bushes made from commercial clump foliage.

wp01 desert

OK, so these options will not suit most modellers. That leads us to another option, probably the easiest for use with a small layout, which is to confine the trees to the backscene. I used an ID Backscenes product on Warley Fen but there are others available and some firms will even print your own photographs into a backscene for you.

wp02 printed backscene

Another easy way of modelling trees, though only suitable for larger scales, is to use ornamental plastic houseplants, again seen here on Warley Fen.

wp03 ornamental plastic

These can be cut and clumped together as required, and can be very effective. Unfortunately not suitable for smaller scales though. Here we have to make the choice between expensive ready made model trees, slightly less expensive kits or time consuming scratch building using wire, clay and scatter materials… Or a bit of bodging.

Yeah, you guessed it, I’m all for a bit bodging.

The photo below shows a very simple but effective way of making bushes and small trees in O and smaller scales, in this case Muston Sands in O scale. It’s wire wool, teased out then painted with glue and covered in scenic scatter. If you don’t want to use wire wool rubberised horsehair, as used in upholstery, will do the same job.

wp04 wire wool

A variation on this is to take cheap plastic toy trees and dip them in neat PVA followed by dipping in a tub of green scenic foam. Very effective in O, OO and HO scales. Note also the use of wire wool again for the hedgerow along the skyline in this picture of Allt-Na-Ballt.

wp05 treated plastic

The hedgerow along the join between the backscene and the layout brings us neatly to the next option. Low relief trees. I first tried these a good number of years ago when building Cotton Lane and have used the method on several layouts since then.


By far the simplest way of doing this is to use commercially available clump foliage, as seen below on Sandbach.

wp06 commercial clump

However, this can work out quite costly. Sandbach is a very small layout but there’s almost five pounds’ worth of clump foliage in the picture above. So, at last, we get to the nitty gritty of this rather rambling blog entry.

It’s dead simple to make your own clump foliage, either for low relief trees on the backscene or to build 3D bushes as part of the scenery. Just follow the instructions below.

Take a number of cheap washing up sponges and remove the pan scrubs. Don’t throw these away though, they can be teased out and used for ground cover weeds. When you’ve done this tear or cut the sponges into small lumps and bung them in the blender. I do batches of four sponges at a time, mixed with about 3/4 of a pint of water.

hm1 2 3 sponge

After a few minutes you can tip them out and squeeze out the excess water.

hm4 shredded

Then things get messy. You need to mix paint into the sponge to create the desired colour. I use poster paints and mix my own shades of green so that I can get some variation between batches but if you want a forest all the same colour use a single shade of green paint. When this is done repeat the mixing process, but this time stirring in neat PVA. By this time you can truly be described as “green fingered” but it will wash off!

hm5 paint 6 glue

When you have done this your home made clump foliage is ready to be added to the layout or backscene. If you cannot tip your layout over the low relief trees can be added to the backscene before it is attached to the layout because they need to be left flat while the glue/paint mix dries.

hm7 applied

An alternative is to stretch cling film over a flat surface and make the trees on this. Once completely dry they can be taken off the clingfilm and glued onto the backscene using neat PVA.

trees 003

Comparing home made and commercial clump foliage, the trees behind the station building are the commercial product which was added before the backscene was attached to the layout because it’s not easy to work with the home made material close to structures without getting paint on them, and one the trees is actually touching the roof of the building.

So there you have it, trees of green… No red roses though.



About Bob Hughes

Ex railwayman, life long railway modeller, lover of real ale and spicy food.
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