A set of backyard swings had long since been abandoned by its users. "What can I do about the hideous framework?" inquired a reader. "Can I adapt it into a more useful structure, maybe even a much needed storage area?"
If developers can turn post offices into shopping malls, train stations into restaurants and gas stations into houses, we can certainly turn the A-frame of a swing set into something else. But a bit of caution is advised: It might be better (and cheaper) for the yard space and neighbors' view to remove the swings completely.
Open space is a luxury that even overzealous builders can appreciate. Enclosing the structure will introduce a solid form into the otherwise open area (swing sets are never in discrete locations), and you may not want to look at it every day.
Still, some of the better swing sets are quite formidable (especially when it comes to removal) and can easily serve as the base for, say, a garden structure, preferably one that has the open feeling of a greenhouse. With that in mind I have illustrated a solution to the readers problem: a "cloche."
The word cloche refers to a bell-shaped glass vessel used to cover plants or food but it is also an expression commonly used by gardeners to refer to a plastic tent that serves as a temporary winter greenhouse. Another variation of the idea is a cold frame, again used to protect tender plants in winter and extend growing seasons. A plastic cover is used that allows some sun to penetrate the soil in the daytime. Trapped heat protects the plants at night (the inside temperature can be 10 to 20 degrees higher than outside temperatures). Ideally the length of the existing structure should face south or southwest for maximum exposure to the sun.
Construction of the cloche is simple, though not inelegant. A base of pressure-treated logs should be carefully placed between the legs of the swing, with two-by-fours spaced two to three feet apart form the sloped walls of the space. Each should be blocked top and bottom and at some point between. Location of openings is optional; you might use a salvaged glass door for access. Operable vents near the peak at each end of the structure will ventilate the space when it gets too hot during the day (a thermometer is an essential piece of equipment for the space).
Transparent polyethylene, which comes in 6- and 12-foot-wide rolls, should be used to enclose the space (staple the sheets to the wood framing). Keeping the space nearly airtight will minimize moisture loss. Painted battens (1-by-2 inch furring strips) placed over the wood framing will help "finish" the structure. Lastly, make sure there is good drainage around the cloche.
Ideally there should be a windbreak nearby, hardy plants or a fence to protect the shelter from cold wind. A nearby light-colored fence will also help reflect more of the sun's rays into the structure. When the cloche is finished, you can swing into action, laying mulch on the soil and bringing in broad-leafed evergreens, boxwood and rhododendrons.