Enchanted Express a journey of imagination

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Messenger photos by John Matuszak

Landscape and garden railway designer Paul Busse points out the details of the scale model of the Hagia Sophia Mosque, of Istanbul, Turkey, with a railway running overhead, part of the "Enchanted Express" display of architectural landmarks and storybook scenes at the Franklin Park Conservatory, Oct. 13 through March 30. The entire installation is made with natural materials.

Diane Heyne, one of a crew of about 15 with Applied Imagination, puts the finishing touches on a replica of the Great Wall of China. The exhibit will include examples and information about the country’s cultivation of tea.

Franklin Park Conservatory is ready to transport visitors to the wonders of the world – and the wonders of the imagination – aboard the "Enchanted Express," an indoor garden railway exhibit featuring models of architectural marvels and storybook scenes, all made from natural materials.

"It’s the culmination of what I’ve always liked to do. When I was a little kid I loved trains," explained landscape designer Paul Busse, sporting suspenders decorated like railroad tracks.

He’s hoping to evoke a similar sense of childlike awe in those who come to the conservatory.

"It’s easy to make kids act like kids, but we really love it when we make adults feel like kids," he said.

Busse’s studio, Applied Imagination, is in Alexandria, Ky., but he has strong Buckeye ties. He graduated from Ohio State University and designed the first outdoor railroad exhibit at the Ohio State Fair in 1982.

"Governor Rhodes loved it so much, he got down on the ground and played trains with me," Busse recalled.

He also designed exhibits for Ameriflora and the Huntington Bank holiday display. He has gone on to create installations for botanical gardens in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and New York City, where his holiday show has been a tradition for 16 years.

Busse’s team and the conservatory staff cultivated a natural affinity as they planned the exhibit. The conservatory plants were the perfect fodder for their imaginations, and materials that would have been composted were collected and delivered to the studio to become part of the structures.

The studio is unique in building its displays entirely out of organic materials, many of which are recyclable or renewable, such as wood-processing byproducts, Busse said.

"We’re using something that would have been thrown out anyway."

While materials are collected close to home, the finished products are calculated to take visitors far, far away, with the nearby railway the magic carpet that leads from one scene to another.

The contours of the conservatory presented a challenge for the railway builders and led them to suspend much of the track overhead.

In keeping with the focus on "plants, people and places," each area will highlight plant life and its cultural significance to its region, noted Meg Menkedick, education manager at the conservatory.

The model of the Great Wall of China, in the Himalayan biome, will provide information about the 4,000-year history of the cultivation of tea and its ceremonial and economic importance.

The Bodnath Stupa Buddhist temple of Kathmandu, Nepal, is adorned with lotus blossoms, a symbol of enlightenment. The Taj Mahal, fashioned from ginkgo leaves, lichen, gourds and even cinnamon sticks, will be surrounded by jasmine flowers, a symbol of romantic love.

It’s a short ride across the continents to the desert Pyramids and papyrus of Egypt, and the rain forest monuments of Machu Pichu and "the mother of all grains" once grown on 8,000-foot high terraces.

"Enchanted Express" winds its way through a world of storybook characters and castles in the Palm House.

A leap of imagination will land one in the Palm House and a world of whimsy peopled by such familiar figures as the Three Little Pigs, Rapunzel and The Old Woman in the Shoe, which is made of tobacco.

"That’s a good use of tobacco," Busse commented.

Through it all trains run on a Seussian sense of humor.

Trains have an appeal that spans generations, Busse offered, from older people who remember playing with them as kids, to today’s children who are fascinated with Thomas the Tank Engine.

"Enchanted Express" is educational, "but 90 percent of it is to have fun," according to Busse, who will be at the conservatory Oct. 13 from 1-2 p.m. to meet visitors and answer questions.

More magic is planned for the holiday season, reported Michael Heglaw, director of special exhibits, including a gingerbread house contest with local chefs and Currier and Ives prints on loan from the Ohio Farm Bureau.

A full schedule of programs, classes and workshops is available at the web site www.fpconservatory.org.

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