“I thought it would be food and flowers.” But the children’s wishes went (though food and flowers came too) and what Rayner found was that if “kids want to engage with water it really doesn’t matter whether it’s a bird bath, a mountain stream or a drain”. Similarly she says when children say they want animals in a garden “they don’t have to be furry or fuzzy but can be stick insects and slaters”. Construction opportunities can be as simple as collecting sticks.
“So much is about just tuning in to daily differences like daylight lengthening and soil temperatures heating up and deciduous plants coming into leaf.” Weedy, untended, against-the odds spaces, she says, offer as many opportunities on all these fronts as pristine ones.
Foraging connoisseurs Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb adopt a similar attitude in their new book, Lets Eat Weeds: A kid’s guide to foraging, which makes identifying and harvesting oxalis, dandelions, mallow and other such rapid colonisers seem as exciting as digging for gold.
Raser-Rowland and Grubb, who wrote the much-acclaimed The Weed Forager’s Handbook in 2012, describe all the “free food” that’s growing everywhere at any time of year. Alongside drawings by Evie Barrow, they show how to turn purslane into tzatziki, nettles into a smoothie and angled onions into pikelets. An outbreak of fat hen anyone? Fat hen savoury French toast, is one of Raser-Rowland’s and Grubb’s suggestions.
But more conventional food-gathering missions can have a place too. And Rayner says supermarket gardening sections are as good a place as any for a family discussion about what seeds might be suitable to sow now.
Or she says your children might take cuttings of easy-to-propagate houseplants like devil’s ivy, or pick flowers and foliage to make bouquets with contrasting colours, textures and stem lengths, or learn the names of the plants they see. Really, even in a pandemic, the options are endless.