Ruth Mason McElvain, retired English teacher, blogger, gardener and writer, has blissfully repatriated to her native South after 40 years in California.

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The Southern Romance of Swings
by Ruth Mason McElvain       #Misc

A swing and picket fence, both painted white, contrast well with the brick home; chevron-striped cushions make it pretty and cozy.

Tap the Southern mind and I promise you, a swirl of porch-swing memories will pour out. For me, the gentle wind of a summer rain transports me back to Grandma’s veranda swing as she sat with her Burpee Seed catalog in hand and a cold Coke nearby on the porch rail … the two-note song of the back and forth swing harmonizing with rain hitting the tin roof and the far-off sound of rolling thunder. In To Kill a Mockingbird, iconic Atticus, immaculate in his linen suit, sways with Scout on the front-porch swing, teaching her about compromise on that stressful first day of school. Eli Wallach in Baby Doll preys on sultry Carrol Baker in her front-yard swing. In Deliverance, the deep-country banjo player settles on the porch swing as he duels with the city guitarist, his effortless fingers a blur on the strings, making the city guy sweat.

We can sway on the porch as fireflies flicker at dusk and enjoy the garden perfume of peonies and roses, tea olive, magnolia, gardenia, phlox and on and on. Mosquitoes are kept at bay by our personal breeze and we enjoy being outside even as the great heat rises from the earth to engulf us. We inhale the aroma of supper cooking inside, laugh with our cousins, cry alone and sleep easy on the screened-in porch swing with our pillow, quilt and favorite little mutt.

Swinging in the Carolinas

I don’t remember seeing a single porch swing during my 40 years in California, but my camera catches them everywhere in South Carolina. All around my town there are swings and gliders on porches, facing out to the yard or down the length of the porch; swings or tires hanging from trees; and swings in their own frame – in back, front and side yards. 

Several bed and breakfasts I’ve visited have porch swings – from Asheville to Savannah, Charleston, Highlands and Saluda. There’s a park near Greer City Hall that has an island with a white gazebo in a small lake, a fountain spraying arcs of water, and no fewer than seven swings for communal swinging, munching on a picnic lunch or just solitary contemplative motion … all delightfully Southern.

This craftsman-style home sports a pretty front-porch swing, which even instructs what you should do, “Relax.”

You can’t get more Southern than this white clapboard house with green shutters and a swing on the front porch.

Swing Inspiration

I love to tour my town for landscaping inspiration, and swings are no exception; as a matter of fact, noting all the swings I saw as I shopped along my own city streets inspired this article. Cruise around your favorite locale to see how fellow citizens have hung swings on their porches and incorporated swings into their landscapes. Beyond that, Internet searches of pictures of porch swings on websites such as Pinterest may give you some elegant ideas. I found a photo of a low, wide swing appointed with blue and white bedding and piled with pillows, and it has me eyeing my screened-in porch for such a possibility. Spring afternoon naps there, or reading with lunch on a tray would be delicious for both my guests and me.

The far corner of my backyard is just begging for a pergola with a table and chairs, strung lights, potted flowers and a generous swing. On my front stoop, too small for a full swing, but with an ample overhang, I’m considering installing a single chair swing. They come in the forms of cupped wicker baskets, scrolled metal or “French shabby chic” chairs with the legs removed, and more. Let your imagination, your personal taste and the style of your house guide you. When you include seating in your gardens, you warm the spaces, inviting friends and family to lounge and enjoy. It’s amazing how much more you and others will use and enjoy your garden if there are spots that encourage dining and conversation. Swings add another dimension to seating with their soothing motion, especially when there’s a cushion beckoning.

This house has the perfect porch for swinging.

This swing is the perfect spot to sit, visit and watch passersby.

Swings in your Landscape

Look around your yard, eye your porches and patio (or envision them if they’re not there) and find spots where you can add a swing or two. Leave your swing’s natural wood unfinished, or brighten it by painting it your favorite color. I want a swing painted aqua blue with buttery yellow and rosy pink pillows, but white always cheers me. But, no matter the color, I’m piling on the bolsters, cushions and throws.

For a swing in the yard, “floor” an area with pavers set in sand or leave a grassy footing and provide a canopy of gauzy cloth that won’t obscure the view, but will lessen the glare. Build a pretty pergola and set a swing in the dappled shade. And remember, shade cloth is magical. Have a barbeque station nearby so people can swing and visit the cook as the meat sizzles. Set out candles or tiki torches at varying heights or string fairy lights, add side tables for drinks and books, soften the edges with shrubs, vines and planted pots spilling with colorful, fragrant blooms. Hang wind chimes, feeders and birdbaths so you can watch the winged and furred traffic while you curl up to read. A weatherproof chest nearby is convenient for storing cushions and a throw to use during inclement weather or to just protect them while still being handy when the swing mood strikes.

A few hundred dollars, some design ingenuity, strong eyebolts anchored in sound timber, and you too can have a swing. Enjoy your Southern swinging heritage.

This pergola and swing are just right for the backyard of a large Southern home. Mint juleps and Southern belles in floating gowns are all that’s missing.

A freestanding swing with chairs nearby is the perfect spot to sit and visit.


This article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume XXVI Number IV.
Photography courtesy of Ruth McElvain.


Posted: 06/19/17   RSS | Print


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