Swing Set Makeover: Fall 2013 Master Gardener Newsletter

by UNCE Master Gardener Volunteer Liz Morrow

UNCE Master Gardener Volunteer Liz Morrow turned this “wooden backyard discovery equipment” from something resembling “a minor boot camp for tots” into a “beautiful new garden.” This is the before picture; keep reading to see the complete swing set makeover!
UNCE Master Gardener Volunteer Liz Morrow turned this “wooden backyard discovery equipment” from something resembling “a minor boot camp for tots” into a “beautiful new garden.” This is the before picture; keep reading to see the complete swing set makeover!

When my longtime friend, Donna, called me and asked if I could give her some advice on how to turn the swing set in her back yard into a planter, my first thought was paint it a bright, bold color like I’d seen in many a magazine: brilliant lavender, a sky blue, a bright orange or sunshine yellow. Of course, I was thinking of the swing set of our youth. You know the ones that look like Tinker toys? I was wrong, it’s the swing set of today’s youth, or rather the wooden backyard discovery equipment that resembles something like a minor boot camp for tots.

Once I saw it, I was inspired by the potential. This jungle gym was in the shade of two very large and tall Maple trees, back dropped by a split rail fence where new Virginia Creepers had been planted, yearning to reach up to start their climb and cling to the fencing. But other than that, this equipment was held in place by concrete and surrounded by native Fallon soil, aka Sierra Cement and cheat grass.  I shared some ideas and we set a time for me to come back.

I envisioned planting a Wisteria at the base of the ladder for the rings, just knowing that the plant would love to climb up and become intertwined with the rings and rungs of the ladder. In the meantime, six hanging baskets would fit perfectly in the rings. A grape plant would go great next to swings and use the frame as its trellis. Honeysuckle would climb the platform’s wall. Pots of annuals would bloom on the platform, or should I say, the “Plantform Deck.” The slide would be a sea or wave of succulents.

Donna got inspired herself and stained the equipment and purchased a few plants: three Honeysuckles, two Scotch Blooms, two Russian Sage, one hops plant and some ice plants. Donna’s husband, Jerry, also got involved. He created four wooden slats to put into the slide to hold the potting mix in place.

Slide with custom-built slats to hold soil.
Slide with custom-built slats to hold soil.
Zack resting on the swing.
Zack resting on the swing.

The time had finally came and I drove out to Fallon. I arrived on a Tuesday morning around 9 a.m., armed with my gardening tools, some transplant nutrients, some hens and chicks, sedum and more ice plant from my own yard for the slide. Donna’s 12 year old grandson, Zack, was hard at work. Already, he had dug some holes and actually planted one of the honeysuckles. I felt like I had a crew of three: grandparents and grandson. It became a family affair. Of course, Zack had taken his last trip down the slide earlier in the day and even took a short break on one of the swings.

I sent Zack on a mission to find some rocks to hold the succulents in place. He jumped on the Polaris and went to the back of property and shortly returned with some rocks. Jerry cut a redwood trellis for me and framed it up to give another honeysuckle something to hold on to. Donna and I ran off to the nursery to get a few six packs of snap dragons and alyssum for the “Plantform Deck” pots and to pick up some sandwiches to ensure the crew was fed and hydrated.

All the plants were put into place, doctored up with their nutrients and little plant prayers from me, “Grow and be happy here Little Baby.” There’s more potential in this new backyard planter. Under the “Plantform Deck” is a perfect area with an already raised bed in total shade. The ideal place for a few hostas. And even today, Jerry is looking for little hands to attach to the chains on the swings which will be holders for baskets of flowers.

Donna is very excited about her new garden. She has a table and two chairs close by where she now enjoys her morning coffee or reading.

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