My Märklin rail layout

HO UK model rail


I enjoy the landscaping of my layouts. For my latest layout (2015) the process was simpler and faster to construct than my first layout as I could re-use parts of my original layout and perhaps I had already learnt a lot.


The baseboard is made of a sheet of 45mm thick, 3 x 1 metre high density building insulation foam, the type used in walls and lofts. Its covered in a layer of foil with a convenient grid printed on it.


  • This lightweight material is supported on a pair of inexpensive Ikea trestle tables. – I’ve used solid chipboard before in the past and it was massively strong but far too heavy to move.
  • my baseboard doesn’t need to be so strong that I can to walk on it, but I do need it to light enough for it to be moved away from the wall for cleaning etc.
  • the foam baseboard can be cut into and tunnels or trenches be made for the ducting of wiring. These can also be simply covered over when finished or filled with more foam filler. Most of the wiring goes around the perimeter of the board and feeds across the board at various points.  – wooden baseboards needs a drill and access to the underside of the board – which I didn’t want.
  • a foam baseboard can fix almost all track and buildings into position, using just wooden BBQ skewers or wooden tooth picks. These are cheap and cheerful and can be easily pushed into the foam base and cut with a pair of sharp electrical pliers. They are easy to extract and reposition if needed. Tooth picks also double up as fence posts.
  • On this layout I spent some money on buying what I thought was a risky luxury, when I used the commercial product Woodland Scenics polystyrene 4% inclines.   These concertina like strips of foam provided a perfect curved incline at both ends of  layout and in the end were very good in providing the correct inclination on which so far no locomotive has slipped – brilliant!
  • I also reduced the amount of foam used for the hard landscaping of hills preferring to use a mix of foam leftovers and plaster of paris bandages to cross the expanses over cuttings and tunnels. Unlike my first layout this time I had hundreds of model trees which I could reuse to decorate the hills.


Finishing of the surface of the hills and rock faces was done with Polycell Plaster Repair using a small flexible metal artist spatula. The filler is incredibly lightweight when applied and is almost like a confectionary mousse, but set in 12hours to a rock hard surface. It is easy to use, requires little cleaning up afterwards, but must have its lid put back on securely.



One thing that was problematic for my first layout, was the removing of track or fixing temperamental point motors, as I had laid ballast and grass up to the edges of  raised ‘C’ – tracks! This time I used black foam sheeting, similar to a divers neoprene wetsuit, as the foundations for ballast, rocks/pebbles and turf. It is strong and easy to cut to save and can also looks similar to tarmac, (but so far I’ve resisted using as that)  It simply fixes on to the foam baseboard using staples or with the occasional tooth pick fence. Onto its surface I spread flexible PVA builders adhesive to secure the boulders, gravel or dried coffee grounds which makes an excellent earth or peat effect.  The benefits are that it can be easily taken up and repositioned when needed and the substrate remains in place.



I used a limited palette of natural earth colours diluted in water and applied directly to the landscaped  surfaces. The surfaces were either raw dry plaster or the set Polycell filler which had a light grey colour. These natural pigments covered exceptionally well requiring only one coat, were inexpensive and what’s more looked natural. This was particularly apparent when overlaying a dark wash over the yellow ochre which gave it gave the appearance of soil erosion down a rock face. The colour collected and concentrated in the cracks and crevices in the rock face and tricked down its surface just as might be seen in nature. Colours used yellow ochre, raw umber, burnt umber. I hope it goes without saying that the colours were of a matt finish, anything else would look fake!


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