Magic at the New York Botanical Gardens’ Holiday Train Show

Amazing. Absolutely awe-inspiring.

I’m officially obsessed with the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show. I want to get a hold of Honey I Shrunk the Kids’ shrink ray, zap myself and move into this miniature, horticultural version of the New York.

The Manhattan skyline as imagined by Paul Busse

The Manhattan skyline as imagined by Paul Busse. Seen in the Haupt Conservatory.

The show is the work of Paul Busse and his team at Applied Imagination. Busse and his team scour the forests outside their Alexandria, Kentucky workshop for the foliage that will become 140 of New York’s most remarkable landmarks from yesterday and today. Magnolia leaves become a roof, pine bark a stone façade, lotus pods a balcony, and moss to fill in the rest.

This year even some of the trains zipping through the scenes were created from plant material.

The Holiday Train show runs from mid-November to mid-January and is an absolute must see. It’s a bit of trek…especially on public transportation, but don’t let that discourage. This is the perfect kick-off to the holidays in New York.

If you get the chance, stroll up to Ross Hall and catch a viewing of PBS documentary Holiday Train Show with David Hartman. It offers you a look into Busse’s studio and the work that goes into the show every year, along with his commentary on some of the pieces.

Don’t be too upset if the doc isn’t playing while you’re there….the exhibit features an Inside the Artist’s Studio display demonstrating the step-by-step process of creating the replicas. You’ll miss the commentary and Busse’s awesome suspenders, but you’ll get the jist.

New This Year

The wonder of this year’s show starts as soon as you enter the Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. A replica of the Macy’s flagship store — new this year — greets you in all its grandeur. Every minute detail is accounted from the Macy’s unmistakable star down to the Christmas window displays.

The show's replica of Macy's flagship store on 34th Street

The show’s replica of Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street

Arguably the most austere mansion in New York City history makes appearance in the show — Montana Senator William Andrew Clark’s home, once located Fifth Avenue and 77th Street. The 9-story, 121 room home only stood completed for 18 years before it was demolished shortly after Clarks’ death in 1925.  After taking 13 years to build, the mansion had fallen laughably out of style before it was even complete.

The Clark Mansion replica along side the home that stood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

The Clark Mansion replica alongside the home that stood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Introduced in 2006, the replica Clark mansion is framed with beech stick columns. It’s palm fronds balcony are adorned with ladies sculpted of pistachio hulls, okra, white peppercorns and eucalyptus buds.

Hudson River Paradise

I recognized painter’s Frederic Edwin Church’s Olana from my research of the Hudson River School blog post. Busse and his team did a magnificent job recreating the Moorish detail of the painter’s home with chestnut bark siding, eucalyptus leaf shingles with decorations of pussy willows, star anise, beech seeds and more.

The replica of Church's Olana alongside the house.

The replica of Church’s Olana alongside the house.

Built in 1870, the home was modeled on the buildings Church and wife saw on their travels through the Middle East — buildings of Beirut, Jerusalem and Damascus. Upon their return, Church commissioned Calvert Vaux to build his Persian palace in the hills of the Hudson Valley. And after 20 years of tinkering and repairs, Olana was essentially complete. It still stands today as a museum and monument to Church’s life and work.

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

The precarious dome of the Haupt Conservatory was one of Busse’s most nerve-wracking undertakings. The latticework of reeds and resin was sculpted over a paper-mache form. Once the resin dried, the form was removed creating the translucent, glowing dome.  

The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Home to the Holiday Train Show.

The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. 

The Conservatory, built in 1902, was inspired by two British green houses, the Palm House of Royal Botanical Gardens and the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park. In the 1970’s it was renamed after Haupt as a ‘thank you’ for her patronage.

Just a Few More…I Can’t Stop!


Okay, I’m cutting myself off. I could write a book about this show and still not do it justice. Go. Now. See for yourself.

It will make your holiday season.

Getting There

The New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, NY 10458-5126

Weekdays: Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Weekends: 10 a.m.–7 p.m.
Holiday Weeks (Monday, December 17–Tuesday, January 1): 10 a.m.–7 p.m.
Early closings: December 14 and 24; 3 p.m.