Why add trees to a model railway

If you want your layout to look authentic and lifelike there’s a quick and easy tip you can use.

I’ve just had an epiphany regarding my model railway landscapes.

I’m writing this while travelling across Southern England on the way to Cornwall, by train of course, and watching the landscape roll by it dawned on me how many trees there are, everywhere!

We may have lost the forests that made up our landscape long ago but we still have huge numbers of trees all around us. Whether they’re singular oaks standing proud or the familiar Ash, Beech or Birch they’re all around us.

And this applies not just in the countryside but to built-up areas as well. As my train speeds past towns and villages there are still huge numbers of trees to be seen. In gardens, on pavements and road islands, next to churches, between warehouses. Even in city centres. They’re everywhere.

“Life on earth is inconceivable without trees”
Anton Chekhov

We’re blessed to have such a multitude of trees in this country.

A lack of trees of model railways

But oddly, this profusion of trees in our environment is something that is often missing from HO, OO and N scale incarnations. And I’ve checked.

Sure the very best layouts — the award winning ones you see at the exhibitions — feature lots of tree’s but most others don’t. We tend to skimp on the vertical greenery. Most model railways have the man-made structures nailed and low level vegetation is also done well but there just aren’t enough trees in the majority of layouts.

Just take a look at these pictures from around the country. Trees, Trees and Trees!


Look around, there are trees in the countryside

trees offices

in towns and cities, near offices and businesses…

trains in stations

And even around railways and railway stations.

Now take a look at your model railway. How many trees do you have? I’d hazard a guess you have a LOT less than in the pictures above yet if you want your railway to look lifelike it obviously needs the a similar proportion of trees per scaled down mile.

Model Railwya Engineer Extra

While looking at the trees on my journeys I also noticed another element often missing on model railway scenery. Take a look at trees around you. No, not the branches but the base of the trunk. I’d never really scrutinised tree trunks before — let’s face it it’s not high on most people’s to-do lists — but in doing so I noticed a great many have hedge rows, bushes, brambles and extensive ivy growing around their base. This is also something that again is lacking from a great many models. So when adding your trees, don’t forget the ground-level accompaniments.

See this quick guide to making bushes if this is something you want to do.


Trees next to railway embankment

Take a look at anyway railway line and you’ll find trees.

Another thing I noticed while travelling was how many trees there are along railway lines. Again, this is lacking in many model railways.

We tend to keep the view to railway lines clear when in reality train lines are often surrounded by thickets – just take a look at sides of railway embankments, in most cases, you’ll see what I mean.

If you do position trees near your railway lines however remember to leave clearance for the rolling stock to pass without catching on them — it’s annoying to “plant” trees and then have to reposition them.

Don’t forget variety

And it’s not just the quantity of tree’s that is lacking from models but the variety too. We’re very fortunate in the UK to have a wide number of native and non-native trees so having lots of the same trees dotted across your layout looks just as wrong as having too few trees.

Thankfully, a good variety of trees are available from Noch and Woodland Scenics amongst others. You can also make your own as I covered in make your own model railway trees. This technique uses wire for the trunk and branches but I also use Seamfoam – a desert plant that when dried, making very convincing scale trees.

I’ve recently ordered a load of Seafoam trees for my layout (the joys of Amazon and eBay app’s on my phone) and once I’ve added growth around the base of the trunk (see above) and fitted them I’ll post some pictures here.

So there you have it, why add trees to a model railway… I hope this has given you some ideas and inspiration. If you’ve got trees on your model railway, what trees have you used? I’d love to hear what you’ve done so write a comment below.

Now back to my train ride.

Footnote: Anyone interested in tree’s is recommended to investigate the work of pioneering scenic modeller George Iliffe Stokes, his trees were/are some of the best ever seen in the hobby.


> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.

Pictures: Sleepy early morning – Brian Smithson; Office & Trees, Martin Weller;  Train in station,Elliott Brown; Class 37s on Dussindale Bank Gerry Balding.


Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.
One comment
  1. Hi, we are retired Brits living in South Africa. We are just starting to build a model railway we can enjoy with our grandsons, and I am in charge of landscaping and buildings. I have lots of buildings but am just getting some ideas of how to make trees. I like the look of your site.
    Many thanks

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