Aesthetic abutments for your bridges

Learn more about abutments and see how garden railroaders use them
Usually, the bridge gets all the attention and credit for holding up the train but, without proper support, a bridge is useless. Let’s say you buy or build a wonderful bridge and need to support both ends to complete the picture. There is a free, downloadable ebook on full-scale bridgescaping that comprehensively illustrates aesthetic and practical design and includes historical perspectives:

A bridge mechanically spans a gap by joining two embankments. In this column, though, we’ll narrow our focus to the interface between the bridge and the earth, examining how outdoor modelers from Maine to California anchor their bridges against typhoon-like weather and monster forces. Each bridge abutment skillfully retains the slopes at the ends of the bridge. Each railway shows how to blend the hardscape with the native environs. Modelers abut bridges with a variety of materials.

What if your train is already happy with the 1:1 concrete blocks or bricks you stacked, and the bridge is working perfectly? Without moving your brick substructure, think about how you can cover it with a scale façade of mortared stones, precision board etched to look like stone, or a wooden retaining wall. Give the façade a 5-10% slope. If the bridge never did seat correctly and it’s washing away, check out Stoneworks’ plan #7015, “Bridge Abutments,” using one pound of their real scale stones at
Nancy Norris
1. Choosing a style to abut your bridge involves matching local stone in color, shape, and appropriateness for the era and natural environment. One way to make the abutments match the shores you’re bracing is to get extra stone so that, after building them, leftovers can be scattered and placed to show the logical source of construction material—and revet the slope, preventing erosion. Bob Treat and Steve Dasher’s Snow Creek Railroad repeats the shoreline stones in their abutments, piers, and retaining wall. Note the finishing touches of masonry footings and caps. Dwarf Japanese garden juniper models scrub chaparral in this southwest railroad.

Bridgescaping glossary

Abutment (n.): The substructure under the end
of the span of a bridge for transferring the vertical load of the superstructure of the bridge and holding back the lateral forces of the land at the bridge approach.

Hardscape (n.) The hard, non-plant material used to make walkways, barriers, walls, etc. Also, to hardscape (v.) is to build the hard structures of a garden before planting.

Repetition (n.): The art of repeating similar treatments, elements, or concepts in a landscape to pull components together into a natural, holistic scene that satisfies the eye and makes logical engineering sense.

Revetment (n.): A facing of masonry or stones that protects an embankment from erosion: gabions (stone-filled cages), rip rap (rubble), blocks of concrete, or other protective covering material of like nature deposited upon river and stream beds and banks and other shores, to prevent scour by water flow, thus inhibiting erosion.
An arch bridge is one of the oldest bridge styles to span a gap. Materials must withstand the compression transferred vertically and horizontally. Ledge rock from outcroppings and beach pebbles from the shore retain Scott’s bridge embankments.
Scott Gould
Don’t ask the kids to beef up your girder bridge pier.
Nancy Norris

Regional gardening reports

All zones are USDA Hardiness Zones

Question:  Regarding landscaping around bridges, other than using a few bricks or concrete blocks, have you found an interesting way of handling bridge abutments?

Scott Gould
Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Zone 5
Native stone
When I’m running American equipment, the road is called the Vaguely Wiscasset & Quebec. When I’m feeling Scottish, it’s the Ballachulish & Pitlochry. This summer, it’s the Aberdaron, Pwllheli & Criccieth Railway, a fictional line that rolls along the coast of Wales. I’m halfway done with the figures in the open car, Braich y Pwll, but just learning how to pronounce the name.
When we bought our house, the backyard sloped up a dirt embankment with a few large rocks. I brought the top of the embankment forward in order to create a waterfall between two ponds. There is
a pond liner underneath each pond, which is covered by concrete and rocks. The rocks are what Mainers refer to as ledge—metamorphosed sedimentary rocks thrown up by an ancient sea. I laid the rocks on a diagonal across the slope, in order to mimic the look of coastal Maine. The original plan was to have scale plantings above this plane and 1:1 plants below it. But, as you can see, the 1:1 world keeps swallowing the scale world.
I used concrete and ledge to form abutments for the upper bridge. The lower bridge is an afterthought that I built last fall, using pebbles from the beach. These are glued to a Styrofoam form with silicone glue. The rock walls are also glued with silicone. So far they seem to be impervious to our Maine weather. I like the effect so much I will probably redo the upper bridge.

Frank Lucas
Pleasant Hill, California, Zone 9
Imported plastic
When I was faced with the problem of holding up one end of a simple girder bridge, I cheated. I bought a kit. The graffiti is what you get when you ask your 14-year-old grandson to help you build some of your kits.


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