Garden scenery for your model train layout

“Hello Al

I was washing up the other day – again – and I thought to myself, ” I’ve got to stop chucking away these little sponges.” Then I had one of my loopier ideas. Model house kits come without gardens – so I decided to make one. I had no idea whether it would work – but oddly – I think it did. If you follow these simple instructions, you too can have a ‘sponge garden’.


Unfortunately I need to explain what I did – the photos don’t tell the whole story. I needed a fairly large garden for my Tudor mansion so I glued two sponges together. Broke my rule and used NEW ones – at huge expense – so it would all look clearer in the photos. Basically, you’re going to ‘sculpt’ them! The ‘cutting’ section of the pictures shows just one sponge, half the garden – easier to show what’s going on – and of course I joined the two mirrored halves up when it was done.

1. Cut away the sponge – down to around 1 cm from the dark green ‘scourer’ pad (depends how high you want your hedge). Easiest way is to snip away with scissors. Don’t have to be too accurate – nature isn’t! Keep the discarded sponge – handy for making trees and bushes – and for painting with.

2. THE HEDGE. With a craft knife cut round the garden, 1 cm in from the edge. Cut down to the dark green ‘scourer’ pad but not through it. You can feel when you get down to it. This will be your hedge.

3. THE BORDERS. With a craft knife make a second cut round the garden, 1 cm in from your last cut – down to the scourer pad again.

4. THE LAWN. The fun part – if you like ‘picking’. Pick away the sponge from the whole centre section of the garden – down to the scourer pad. This will be your lawn.

5. THE SHRUBS AND FLOWERS. Go to your borders. More picking. Carefully pick away at the sponge to leave ‘lumps’ which will be your shrubs – tallest usually nearest the hedge. Snipping with a small scissors helps. Don’t need to be uniform and formal – different heights and shapes work best.


WARNING! DON’T USE YOUR EXPENSIVE HUMBROL or REVELL PAINTS! This material drinks paint. I used big tubes of artists’ acrylics which you can get very cheaply – and a sampler pot of green emulsion for the lawn (£1 from Wilkinson’s). Used very little of it – tons left over.

The painting is what makes it work. You don’t need skill but it’s worth taking a little time over it. It’s joyously messy and a lot of fun. Important to do it in this order: –

1. THE SOIL. Dark brown in and around all the plants and shrubs – you can pull back your hedge to get right down in amongst them. Paint out into the lawn a little. Humbrol is okay for this – you need very little.

2. THE HEDGE. Saturate it – pull it back to get down to the bottom. Dab away with a big brush. Paint the scourer too on the outside edge of the hedge. Now wash your hands, please.

3. THE SHRUBS AND PLANTS. Create lots of shades of green: –
– Pour some mid-green into a plastic milk bottle cap or suchlike.
– Paint a few shrubs
– Mix in some white or yellow – to lighten up
– Paint a few more then go lighter and paint some more
– Start adding blue or black to darken up – paint some more – etc.
This gives variety. Doesn’t matter if you splodge or paint into other plants – this is what happens in nature.

4. THE LAWN. You really need emulsion. With a huge brush daub it, flattening down the bare scourer pad as you go. Some of the original dark green will show through which looks great. Cut a small strip of card with a straight edge and lay it over the flower bed to mask it and get a nice straight edge to your lawn. Allow an area of brown bare soil IN FRONT OF the shrubs and plants

5. THE FLOWERS. Use bright colours to stand out. Unbend a paper clip and use it to blob drops of paint onto some of the shrubs and plants. Create some clumps at the front of the bed.

These washing up sponges glue together beautifully with superglue. I never use expensive makes of superglue – buy packs of the stuff from the Pound (99 cent) Shops for very little and it works fine. While you’re in the shop you’ll notice that they sell big packs of washing up sponges for peanuts so (can’t believe I’m saying this) you could use new ones.

And you could use the same process to make fields – hacking away all but furrows and crops – glue a few together. And it would work well for allotments too. The scourer (dark green) section of the sponge looks fantastic when daubed with emulsion – has a real earthy texture when brown and a rough grassy look when green. You can flatten it with the paint or make it stick up – kind of spikey. I’m going to try some further experiments with it.

Of course you can design your own garden – put gates and fencing and a patio in. Don’t have to copy my old-fashioned concept.

Best wishes to all.


Another super cheap way of adding scenery! Thanks to Roger. Like that one.

And save even more money with the latest ‘ebay cheat sheet‘.

Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

Keep ’em coming.



PS Beginner’s Guide is here.

73 Responses to Garden scenery for your model train layout

  1. dave says:

    Another cracking idea

  2. Andy says:

    Brilliant idea, I’ve been worrying how to make gardens for ages. I’ve been part Wilkinsons this morning where you can buy a huge pack of these sponges for a few pence. Great idea.

  3. Using sponges–an idea out of the past! I remember doing this back in the late 50s-early 60s. We didn’t have the “scrubby” type sponge, but we used sponges to make hedges, cabbage heads, bushes, and bushy flowers. You took it one step further using the scrubby part as a lawn for the back garden.
    A blast from the past golden oldie as the DJs say!

  4. David T, Great Eastern says:

    Ah! British house, British shops. Like it!

    Only comment – the grass looks a bit rougher than mrs T would be happy with, so would one of those “fuzz-removing” shaver thingies smooth it out a bit?

    However, the grass looks very much like a meadow, so one or more of the sheets of scouring stuff (Wilkinsons, supermarket of your choice, but maybe not Waitrose!) be a quick and easy way to fill in a blank acre or two at the back of the layout?

  5. kenny clarke says:

    great idea hope they keep coming

  6. Dirck Hecking says:


  7. Len Lainsbury says:

    Brilliant enough to compare to the work of my favourite contributor, Aussie John from Cairns. The explanation and photographs were exactly what a numbskull like me needs to get motivated. Thanks Roger.

  8. Andrew Ball says:

    As I was reading the description I thought, “This sounds too weird to be any good”, but when I got to the photos! Wow, it’s fantastic! Roger you were rght to supply both written description and photos. Absolutely brilliant idea and so simple.
    David T, if you want a smoother lawn try the used side of the scouring pad as the lawn surface.

  9. paul starr says:

    brilliant idea,very,very cost effective.

  10. Don says:

    Thank you Roger. Great idea and looks awsome! Will be using this idea for sure.

  11. Sheila says:

    Another wonderful idea! I love all the amazing ideas posted…thanks for the website. It is wonderful.

  12. Jim Long says:

    Very good idea, I’ll have to give it a try.

  13. Ben Zalewski says:

    Great idea.

    I’m going to try it.
    Thanks for the tip.
    –Ben Z

  14. Joe R. says:

    What a great idea….I sometimes find my creativeness lacking somewhat, but this site is so greatly and timely…Keep it up please.

  15. Joe R. says:

    What a great idea…I sometimes find my creativeness lacking somewhat and thanks to this site, I am able to really amaze myself…Keep it up please!

  16. Bonny aka Grannytoot says:

    A smoother lawn could also be accomplished with a piece of green felt…it can be brushed to give it more texture. All in all, a very nice garden!

  17. Cord says:

    Beautiful! Great idea, brilliant work, amazing results, magnificent photos.

  18. paul Otway says:

    good idea

  19. david says:

    what a good idea ,im going to try it on my layout, thanks for a good tip.

  20. TOM says:

    I never have thought about using sponges for making grass.

  21. JUST BRILLIANT!! I too remember this idea from an earlier life…..but then I am not in my late teens anymore!! Wonderful ideas from all contributors I must say and using photos as well makes it almost idiot proof!!! GREAT!!

  22. Bob says:

    Terrific idea Dave. I’ll be doing it. What scale are you modeling?

  23. Roger says:

    This is OO, Bob. You could make a nice big garden in N but you’d have pampas grass! However – found some fantastic ‘super absorbent’ cleaning cloths in the £1 (99 cent) shop (store!) – they’re like felt but with a very tight nap. They’d make a bowling green in OO and should work well in N. Big too – lots for your money. For N you could cut a piece and glue it over the scourer section for your lawn.

    And many thanks to all for the generous comments – really nice of everyone and greatly appreciated.

    Best. Roger.

  24. Ian says:

    well done keep the ideas coming will use it on my n scale table layout.

  25. Brian Clauser says:

    Very nice!

  26. Edward Rodriguez says:

    What a genius !!!! I am surprised more & more with the imagination some fellow train men can do.

  27. michael says:

    Looks great,but one question what was the colour green that you used,that you got from wilkingson,as i`m going to have a go to make some gardens.

    Thanks. Michael

  28. I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, however great topic. I must spend some time learning much more or figuring out more. Thank you for wonderful info I was in search of this information for my mission.

  29. Jay Reese says:


    You are correct – this is just crazy enough to work kike a charm. Thanks for the info.

  30. Tom Pollock says:

    fROM THE US – NEW MEXICO TOM P – – Some things never change. used sponges in the forties as a kid. It’s still a great idea. AL, how can I get a dvd to you?? How to create scratch built structures from CHEAP, every day mterials. Manuipulating tiny things and gluing up small parts. I model in N scale.

  31. John B says:

    Brilliant, and thank you. Even I can manage that. Change of subject. It’s easy to get cargoes etc., for the goods trains, but has anyone thought what can be done about the passenger trains, as all the coaches supplied with sets etc. have no passengers at all. I’ve got people waiting on platforms, but no-one on the trains. Thanks again, and please keep them coming.

  32. John Whelan says:

    Roger, what a brilliant use of a cheap and replaceable product, I have used this type of scourer pad before but instead of hedges painted green I painted mine dark grey and dripped them into track ballast, makes a great looking dry stone wall, I have cut into strips the larger scourer pads with no sponge again painted them either green or grey and dipped them into ballast or mixed scatter material and especially the meadow type with vibrant colours in. Thanks to all contributors for your wonderful ideas and cost effective ideas. My grandson and I are currently reconstructing my old layout and are have great fun reading the ideas, tips and trying them out ourselves. Many thanks Al for this valuable resource for our shared hobby.
    John Whelan, Dublin, Ireland

  33. John Whelan says:

    John B, No Passengers on Trains, I had the same concern some time ago. My layout is made up of Irish Rolling stock and carriages however at that time I found it very difficult to get carriages in the right livery for the period so using the carriages i had went about un assembling them for re-spray in doing I found that the carriage came in several parts with the seating section a separate molded piece, ( this feature on most well known makes) while waiting for the painting to dry i added in several people either standing in carriages or sitting on seats looking out window.
    Look to the underside of an carriage there will be some screws which will need to be un-done, carefully remove the bogies usually held in by sprung mounts and take care of any springs, couplings etc that may be there. carefully tease apart form upper section and in most cases the interior seating mold can be removed giving you opportunity to put people in. My advise is to try this on an old or damaged carriage first and always check with your manufactures instructions which can be found on their website.
    Good Luck with it
    John Whelan, Dublin, Ireland

  34. Jim Peters says:

    This Is The Best Idea You Came Up With Yet! I’m Going To Make A Whole(Mister Rodgers) Neighborhood Out Of These!

  35. JACK WINDT says:


  36. Gary Downs says:

    Just saying, but if that guy climbs over that hedge, he’s gonna do some damage

    Great job mate, thanks for sharing

  37. rick k says:

    Fantastic idea! My wife is gonna run out of sponges lol
    Rick canada

  38. Al Olsen says:

    Super imagination! Wonderful idea.

  39. Great idea!

  40. Michael C says:

    I also remember this idea, from a modeling magazine of the 50s era. Same concept. I believe article was on how to make furrowed fields, using scrub sponges. But please keep up the ideas. I never tire of reading, and watching what others are accomplishing. I do just have one tiny question. Who gonna haul out the mower and get it over th shrubery to mow the lawn? 🙂 L. O. L.

  41. john andrew says:

    Roger thanks for your plug for using foam I can’t afford foam dish cloths so I use the blocks of foam that goes in lounge chairs etc, and cut it to the size I require with a band saw and then follow what you do with dyes and things ,beast regards to you all John A

  42. john andrew says:

    coal loads ,go to the persons who run excursion trains over weekends and take a bag I am sure that for a small donation they would allow you to fill the bag with lumps of coal ,i crush it with a rolling pin it makes great coal even looks like coal john A

  43. John Ortis says:

    Neat idea.

  44. denis says:

    I have used this method for my HO RR, and it a great ider

  45. marlin says:

    off to store what a great setup thanks

  46. marlin says:

    what a great setup thanks

  47. Marlin L. Stevens,Sr. says:

    what a great setup thanks very mutch

  48. Marlin L. Stevens,Sr. says:

    what a great set up, thanks

  49. marvin says:

    You people are great with your ideas!!!!!

  50. marvin K says:

    Fantastic! thanks

  51. Jim Richards says:

    Very Clever!


  52. Steve C says:

    Great imagination and great results. Keep the ideas coming!!!

  53. Perfect way to make a lot of different hedges and other things you can dream
    up when you look at the material in your hand .

  54. Linda Howell says:

    Great idea! I love repurposing things especially being so “thrifty”. Also can use the rough pieces of sponge you cut away to weather or give a mottled effect to other seanery such as retaining walls etc. Keep all the great ideas coming.

  55. john says:

    Hi guys here’s another tip. Go to HOME DEPOT you ‘ll find them in the cleaning isle look for scotch-brite pads they come in a 8 pack 9inch x 6 inch. Thanks John

  56. Susan Cannon says:

    For those that think the scour pad is too rough – what if you cut the sponge down to *just above* the scour pad? Leave a small layer of the yellow sponge part. Then everything is nice and secure to the scour pad but the grass level is smooth. I imagine you could trim that down to the scour pad if you wanted to create a pathway through the grass, like for the stepping stones or whathaveyou.

    Brilliant idea! Thanks for sharing.

  57. Pat says:

    Good ideas ….I model in t gauge so will try by just making everything smaller than suggested

  58. Joe Saunders says:

    Great description and finished product. I can just hear the wife in the doorway, hands on hips, telling hubby: “The lawn is getting a little scruffy, John; needs mowing this weekend.” To which hubby will give the usual response: “Yes dear.”

    Keep these great ideas coming; I’m about to start my first layout with my granddaughter.

  59. Dr Bob says:

    Should not the grass be brown/yellow to reflect the season this year?

  60. Don says:

    So simple….so impressive!

  61. Mike Ilkenhons says:

    Roger… love the idea… in all my scratch build, I almost always incorporate something I saved… whether a part from an old computer, scraps of wood, old Venetian blinds, PVC pipe , Coke Can aluminum, guitar pick guard material…and on and on. The joy of model railroading is to be creative. Thanks for sharing. Mike(Clermont, Florida)

  62. Peter Hubbard says:

    When I was much younger, my father ran a shoe store. One of the windows he dressed had a sheet of ‘grass’ made with green sponge balls. When he changed the window, he brought the sheets home for my train layout. It was perfect for grass. The problem was, the sponge balls came loose and got into everything on the layout. I have always been leery of sponge in a train layout.

  63. Andrew says:

    WOW!! Well done Roger. That is soooooooo clever and thank you.

  64. Osborne says:

    The human mind is an amazing thing. Imagination can create anything we want. Wonderful idea for a garden/grass yard. Super pictures.

  65. Wicklow says:

    Genius, absolutely genius ! Thank you.

  66. Ms. Jackie Carlsbad, New Mexico, USA says:

    I just looked at a ” Scotch-Brite” 4′ x 2′ scrub sponge. The dark green looks a lot smoother. Just a note.
    I like the idea, I too will try it.

  67. Gary Parks a Yank says:

    Not wanting start a war here, but as I was reading some of the comments, I noticed a LOT of criticism. Slight though it may have been, this man went through a lot to get this info out to those of us who wouldn’t have thought about this very creative method of making lawns and hedges WITHOUT spending any money of things like “FELT”, or as one put it, “those shaver thingys”. If one has the funds to purchase the finer things to make your layout “PRISTINE”, then power to that person, however, this man was suggesting using something that you would normally throw away. He was showing us how to SAVE money rather than spend it in these very difficult times. I think he did a tremendous job and give him KUDOS for bringing it here.

  68. Phil says:

    Great idea. So versatile, not just a lawn!

  69. James says:

    Interesting !

  70. Keith Delderfield says:

    John B. You have passengers waiting on the platform and empty carriages, because trains are on strike!
    Superb ideas from all you train modellers.

  71. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Roger…. Brilliant……I thought you could even go further by combining several sponges and instead of cutting out one large section, you could cut out rows and it would give the look of a vegetable farm.

  72. Michael Joyce says:

    I like it!

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