March of the grass band
Lazy summer days are here again, in which a simple patch of meadow can provide hours of innocent amusement. Simon Lester recalls childhood games with flowers and grasses
Simon Lester recalls childhood games with flowers and grasses
DO you know how to find out if someone likes butter? Take a gleaming yellow buttercup and hold it under their chin—if you see a golden reflection on the skin (you will), then they must like butter.
The same piece of grassland on which you’re sprawling should also boast a host of dainty white daisies, from which you can fashion a range of floral jewellery. Pick the daisies with the longest stems, then, with your thumbnail, gently create a split in the stem and carefully thread the next daisy through the hole. Repeat until you have a long enough chain for a bracelet, necklace or tiara or attempt to enter Guinness World Records for the longest chain (thought to be 1,463ft, made by Hessle Junior School, Yorkshire, in 1974).
In this same meadow, there will be grasses with seed heads that look like trees—bents and meadow grasses are perfect. Pick one stem, face your playmate, hold it up and say ‘here’s a tree in summer’. Stroke your finger and thumb up from the bottom of the flower head, collecting all the seeds on top of your pressed together fingers, and say ‘here’s a tree in winter’, showing them the bare grass stem. Then, push up the seeds between your finger and thumb, declaring ‘here’s a bunch of flowers’. Finally, chuck the seeds up into the air, in the direction of your playmate, and say ‘here’s the April showers’, while laughing hysterically.
The garish yellow-orange pompom flower of the dandelion—named after the French dent de lion, meaning lion’s tooth, due to the shape of its edible, jagged leaves— evolves into a soft, round ball of seeds that delights both goldfinches and children. Tell the time with the ‘dandelion clock’ by counting how many puffs it takes to disperse the delicate white parachute-like filamentous achenes from a globular seed head.
This much-maligned weed offers more entertainment in the form of natural tattoos. When cut or picked, the stem of the dandelion exudes a white sap that dries brown, allowing decorative dots and circles to be artfully daubed on arms and hands (they’re easily removed at bathtime). Historically, this sap was applied in the vain hope of curing warts, corns and verrucas.
For something slightly more energetic, pinging plantain heads at each other is enormous fun. Find a patch of ribwort plantain, which likes to grow on open grassland. Pick a long-stemmed example with a nice big flower head, loop the lower stem around the top of the stem behind the flower head, pinch it tight, pull the loop and the flower head will ping off. This can lead to a duel, all-out war or a contest to see who can ping the most heads into a container.
Stickyweed tig is also highly entertaining. Also known as goose grass and cleavers, because of the way it ‘cleaves’ or clings to clothes and animals’ coats, you’re most likely to find Nature’s Velcro— designed to disperse its seed (known as Bobby’s buttons)—growing in a hedgerow or climbing up a wall. Essentially, all players need do is chase their friends around, attempting to attach strands of ‘sticky weed’ on each other’s backs. The person with the fewest Bobby’s buttons attached to their jumper at close of play is the winner.
Finally, for the march home, formulate a ‘grass band’. Select a fresh, slim blade of grass, trap it between the top and bottom of both thumbs, cup your hands, raise it to your lips and blow. Achieving the proper brass sound may take a bit of practice, but you’ll soon be reproducing a fair rendering of Colonel Bogey to round off an afternoon’s entertainment that didn’t involve a single iphone or Playstation.
Chuck the seeds up into the air, in the direction of your playmate, while laughing hysterically
The innocence of youth: most children will find that there is endless entertainment to be had out of doors—once you’ve detached them from the Playstation