September is a great month for foraging for there’s no better opportunity for exploring the school grounds, your garden and the immediate locality to hone the observation and plant identification skills of young growers and find out how much raw material you can access for free. It’s a good opportunity to teach The Countryside Code, responsible foraging and experiment with some simple nature and foliage displays. Our Flower Patch members will find that it will help build the skills they need for later in the year when they may well be selling their floral displays. But it’s fun for everyone.. Blackberries and elderberries (cooked) are good to eat (or drink) too.
Many children will benefit from a picture ‘quiz’ of named plants to find but older or more experienced foragers could collect specimens for identification in pairs or at home using a simple handbook or internet search. We like the Nature Detectives handbook published by Miles Kelly Publishing but there are plenty available and it’s the kind of homework activity that many grandparents or older neighbours are brilliant at helping with. Sara also recommends Roger Phillips’s books ‘Wild Flowers of Britain’ and ‘Trees in Britain’.
At this time of year look out for conkers, old man’s beard, beech nuts, hazel nuts, crab apples, ivy, elderberries, blackberries, sloes, rosehips, acorns and seedheads. You may also have access to bay, rosemary, euonymous, weeping birch, cornus, viburnum tinus, jasmine , photinia and any number of evergreens in your school grounds. We’ll be providing our members with a list of recommended shrubs which can be planted over the winter in your school grounds to boost the availability of filler foliage for your flower arrangements.
Many will provide food for wildlife, opportunities for science topic work as well as foliage for your arrangements and art projects.
Not everything will last well in a vase. Conduct experiments and find out what works.
Here are a few suggestions for additional activities you can do with your foraged finds at this time of year.
Weave foliage around wire rings or use foliage which is flexible enough to wind into a simple circle and then secure with string. Then fasten your berries, nuts or acorns at intervals around the circle. Once the leaves start to fall, you can use them to make crowns or wreaths by sticking the leaves onto cardboard circles and then adding other foraged materials.
Set up a constantly changing nature table and label your finds.
Collect conkers, hold a conker championship and find out what else conkers are good for.
Make blackberry and apple jam, crumble or blackberry fool.
Try out Cally’s elderberry cordial recipe.
Collect seeds and plant a tree. Good seeds to look for are hazel nuts, beech nuts, seeds from Scots pine cones, acorns and sweet chestnuts. Check that they are fertile (they should sink in a bowl of water). Sow into a pot of sand and compost mixed. Pine seeds should be sown near the surface; others 2cm deeper. Label and leave in a cool, shady place until spring. Then water carefully (not too much) and wait until they get to about 25cm tall before planting out in a space in your garden or school grounds.
Collect flower seeds. Check that they are ripe (not green), pick them off, dry them out, seive the seed to get rid of the chaff and save them in labelled envelopes to plant in the spring. Cornflowers, nasturtiums, poppies and calendula are all great choices.
If you’re lucky, the promised heatwave will continue and you won’t even need your wellies.
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