Lauritzen Gardens: Blending Nature with Omaha’s Railroad Heritage

The Union Pacific train rolls through a tunnel cut out of a tree trunk, past Omaha Central High School and several other historic Omaha buildings. You become mesmerized as you watch it exit the covered bridge that spans a flowing river. Then you spot another train cross an overhead steel bridge and travel back into the woods. There is something fascinating about model railroad layouts, especially miniature versions of real existing structures and trains. Add natural landscaping, the landscaping of the beautiful Lauritzen Gardens, and the Model Railroad Garden, a miniature Omaha, becomes a work of art.

Omaha Central High School

covered bridge

Omaha buildings

The other areas of Lauritzen Gardens are beautiful, too. When you enter, you’ll first pass through the atrium where café tables are set up amidst tropical plants.

Indoor atrium

Indoor atrium flowers

For the holidays the tables are replaced with poinsettia plants stacked into the shape of a giant Christmas tree and the atrium twinkles with little lights.

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A brand new, much larger atrium is under construction and set to open in Fall 2014, promising more year-round botanical beauty.

New atrium

Outside, a walk down the paths from garden to garden, admiring bright flowers and flitting monarch butterflies, was an enjoyable way to spend a beautiful summer morning with fellow travel writer Lisa Trudell of the Omaha-based The Walking Tourists.

Black-eyed Susans

Butterfly

With Lisa’s familiarity with Lauritzen Gardens, she was able to point out all the don’t-miss spots, like the Hitchcock-Kountze Victorian Garden, especially elegant with its bright flowers set against a red-brick fence with black wrought iron gates …

Garden wall

… and the Japanese Sunpu Garden Gate, a gift from sister city Shizuoka. The gate is the start of what will be a six-acre Japanese garden.

Japanese Sunpu garden gate

She also pointed out the art work …

Art work

… and the cascading Woodland Waterfall.

waterfall

The highlight for me, however, was the Model Railroad Garden, where I snapped photo after photo and then stood and watched the trains go around and around the layout until Lisa reminded me we were running short on time.

Train 2

Railroad fans will want to stop at Kenefick Park, across the parking lot from Lauritzen Gardens, where two great Union Pacific Railroad locomotives are parked. You will have noticed the locomotives from I-80 if you came into Omaha from the west. The Centennial No. 6900 is the largest and most powerful diesel-electric locomotive ever built. Big Boy No. 4023 is the world’s largest steam locomotive.

Union Pacific 6900

Lauritzen Gardens, located just north of I-80 and south of Omaha’s Old Market district, is open year-round. Check the web site for hours and admission rates.

Disclosure: My visit to Lauritzen Gardens was hosted by the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Lauritzen Gardens, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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