a didactic exercise, a chance to learn from nature, a hands-on science class… we love it as it starts with an outdoor roaming activity in nature.
lesson number one is to explain the importance of fungi in the ecosystem. encourage your children to observe different species of mushrooms and toadstools on the woodland floor, on tree trunks and decaying wood. a magnifying glass and notebook can be useful. it’s fun to try and identify the species - some of their names are hilariously descriptive!
what you will need
1 a basket for the mushrooms. try and find some with gills (or you can cheat by buying portobello mushrooms)
2 gloves (some species are poisonous)
3 a knife
4 paper or card in different colours
5 old newspaper
6 lids or glass bells
7 fixative or hair spray (optional)
this is a fun activity for children and adults to do together. but please wear gloves and make sure children don’t put fingers in mouths as some mushrooms might be toxic!
a safe option with young children is to use shop-bought mushrooms
1 gently pull or cut stalk off each mushroom
2 spread newspaper out and place a sheet of card on top
3 place single or groups of mushroom gill-side down on the card
4 cover with a lid or glass bell
5 leave overnight
6 lift lid to discover a spore print!
7 to preserve your spore print, gently spray with fixative
we love the variety in colour, texture and size. a framed spore print and a spore greetings card makes an unusual and entirely unique present.
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the beginning of this year brought an exciting promise of an art exhibition for my artist husband, focused on seeds, spring, the cycle of nature and regeneration, and hope for the future. while he was painting and creating I was busy coaxing seeds into germination so that we could have some growing art to display alongside his paintings.
then came lockdown. the exhibition got postponed, we closed our studio, relocated our businesses and sprouting seeds to home and settled down to a quieter pace of life. during this unprecedented time, like so many people, we found ourselves appreciating nature more than ever before. the birds seemed noisier, the bees busier and we had time to marvel at the slow but thrilling germination of our seeds as they began to send roots down and sprouts up towards the light.
our seedlings, dotted around the house in glass jars on shelves and mantelpiece, became our ‘babies’. we learnt the value of patience and discovered that growing from seed made us appreciate every millimetre of growth, each new leaf and the beauty of the root structure below.
an essential accessory for slow-living, our germination kits are an excellent teaching tool for children, providing living botany lessons at home. it’s therapeutic to watch nature come to life and teaches us not to take things for granted. watching trees grow helps us appreciate the extraordinary progression from little seeds to the mighty, ancient woodlands that bring vital life to our cities and the countryside.
hedgehog’s germination kits include plates, plant food and a selection of seeds. but it’s fun to experiment with your own seeds too, whether it’s avocados, lemons, oranges, almonds or hazelnuts from the pantry, or seeds collected on family walks.
our seed kits contain a small pack of slow and fast germinating seeds, a small and a large porcelain plate and a little bottle of organic plant food for when their roots start to grow. that’s all you need!
there are two types of seeds: cold and warm. seeds can be germinated inside all year round, but they need some simple tricks to hoodwink them into the appropriate season. cold-climate seeds need slow germination or ‘stratification’; they include spanish and english oak, chestnut and hazelnut. warm-climate seeds, such as almonds, broad beans, gigantes and styrian bean require fast germination.
soak the seed in a jar of water for 48 hours, changing the water daily.
remove the seed and wrap it loosely in a damp paper towel and enclose it in a self seal plastic pouch.
then, depending if it’s a ‘cold’ or ‘warm seed’, either place in the fridge or leave in a warm spot in the house for two to three weeks.
keep an eye on it!
when the roots are long enough it’s time to place it on one of our special porcelain plates over a glass jar with water and watch it develop.
for tutorials on how to germinate visit:
you will need
a dozen organic eggs
skins from ten onions, some red and some white
2 tbsp vinegar
muslin or sheer nylon tights cut into 12cm squares
flowers and leaves, or grass and herbs to decorate
place the onion skins into a large saucepan, fill with water and leave for a few hours or overnight.
meanwhile check the eggs and scrape off any mud or straw.
dampen each egg, gently press some leaves or flowers onto the surface and place it on a square muslin. knot tightly, tying each one securely with the material.
add the vinegar to the onion skin liquid, bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, then carefully lower the prepared eggs into the saucepan one by one.
cook for about 8-10 minutes to your liking, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
inspect the eggs for colour density. when you are happy with the colour, remove them from the liquid before cutting off the muslin and leaves.
pat dry and wipe with oil for a glossy finish.
you can experiment with the colour by adding a sliced beetroot to the solution, and using red or white onions and red or white wine vinegar.
on a hot summer’s day when the children were little and we were driving back from the beach, we spotted an old toy kitchen dumped by the side of the road. we slowed, stopped, reversed back up the street and hopped out of the car to inspect it. it wasn’t pretty. it was dirty, scratched and scribbled on, with tatty peeling old stickers… a perfect project!
we loaded it into the car, took it home and immediately began a clean up job with the hose and a brush. the children washed and scrubbed, full of excitement as they instinctively felt the potential in restoring it. we went to the local hardware store and bought a can of matt khaki paint (there wasn’t any choice - it was khaki or nothing) and sprayed it top-to-toe.
we made hooks and handles, painted branches on the walls, my mother found some little enamel cups in the back of her cupboard, then sewed some tiny tea towels out of rags, and slowly the grotty old kitchen was transformed into a chic children’s play kitchen.
i’ve always loved the patina of pre-loved and veered towards accidental finds. we love shopping in markets, car boot sales and charity shops, and rescuing and transforming discarded items. there’s something special about having toys and clothes passed on from older cousins and siblings. these items carry their own stories and memories, and this makes them meaningful in the way that new is not.
we have always shopped ‘vintage’. it’s good to see that this is increasingly becoming part of life today, with high street charity shops buzzing with activity as our young people enjoy reusing and recycling.
to me pre-loved things have a warmth and authenticity that you don’t get from mass-produced off the shelf items. vintage things are unique and different, and often one-offs.
hedgehog loves toys and products that are well-made by craftsmen, using good, honest materials. i like to think that these things will be treasured, handed down the generations and in turn become well-loved vintage possessions for our children’s children.
do visit the vintage section on our website, as we update it with recent finds all the time. amongst many things, there are books and furniture, a handsome collection of globes, christmas stockings and metres of my mother’s handmade bunting made from recycled vintage fabrics.
the mid-autumn festival is an ancient family occasion, similar to harvest festival. celebrated in china and east asia over a full moon, this year it falls on friday 13th september. traditionally families gather together, light paper lanterns and share mooncakes to give thanks for the harvest and pray for the future.
lanterns originally symbolised fertility and often depict natural elements, such as flowers, plants and butterflies. when lit at nightime, they represent the sun’s light and promise that warmth will return after winter.
we love to celebrate festivals, and feel it’s important for our children to connect to their part-chinese heritage. we festoon our little london garden with colourful paper lanterns lit with candles, and eat mooncake sent with love by family in hong kong.
each paper lantern feels like a work of art. flat packed, there’s a fine wire hook at the top and a simple tassel at the bottom, with tightly concertinaed layers of exquisitely engineered paper between. if it’s a still night we hang them from twigs, stems and branches and light them with candles (but be warned – they are not fire resistant), and if the weather’s bad they look almost as good hanging inside. they make charming decorations over tables at parties and celebrations at any time of year, not just for festivals.
may all your wishes come true!
children love picnics. it doesn’t matter if it’s in your own garden, the local park, in a field or by a river. if it rains, you can have fun improvising one in your living room. if it’s a beautiful evening, we love to break the after-work routine when the children are off school and make the most of long summer days with an evening picnic, parks are less crowded, less hot and it is a very relaxing experience.
at hedgehog we love to explore outside and spend the day in nature. this often means taking our own picnic as we like to keep away from restaurants, shops, people and queues.
for a ‘zero waste’ picnic, simple is best – a fresh baguette with some ham or cheese, a bag of cherry tomatoes, a cucumber and a punnet of big fat english strawberries. we like to shop in markets and prepare our own food to avoid too much packaging. we take glass jars crammed with mouth-watering marinated olives, feta and sun-dried tomatoes, individual bottles of homemade elderflower cordial (see our recipe) and paper straws to drink with, pack everything into a favourite woven basket and spread out our simple, rustic feast on a check rug with a stack of washable napkins.
with a bit of thought and care and some hedgehog gear, your picnic can be transformed into a seasonal, stylish (and instagramable) event.
we love gingham, stripes, polka dots and checks. kraft lunchboxes, enamel plates, bamboo cutlery and aluminium sigg water bottles help us reduce our plastic use – we even have a litter grabber so we can leave the place cleaner
than we found it! we can’t always count on public bins (often overloaded) or recycling points so it is a good idea to take a rubbish bag too.
for extra interest, don’t forget to take a compass, insect catcher and magnifying glass for inspecting your finds. for really adventurous explorers we suggest a bow and arrow or fishing kit, and for creative children a little flower press or sunography sheets - there’s nothing more gratifying than for capturing images of nature forever. you can also take outdoor games, we love our hoopla game and the giant mikado…
easter is a time for making and baking, for fresh colours, bunnies, chicks and flowers. the clocks have changed, the days are longer and spring has arrived! it marks the end of lent and a turning point in the calendar, looking forward to the birth of baby animals and the bursting of spring buds.
celebrate with thoughtfulness, and get the children involved. encourage them to lay a pretty table for breakfast, bake a cake with them for tea or pick a bunch of primroses from the woods and ask them to choose their favourite jar to put them in. every meal can be a party! let their natural creativity inspire you – mix and match colours, pastels and ginghams, decorate with real eggs and chocolate eggs - and find joy through their eyes.
easter weather can be fickle, but rainy days are the perfect opportunity for using craft kits, or painting eggs with toddlers to teens - even the simplest splodges by the youngest children look sweet on an egg. we search for the whitest duck eggs, but speckled brown and blue shells are pretty too. baking is another rainy day option, with cookie cutters, or moulds bringing cakes and biscuits to life. try making cupcakes and decorating with pastel icing, to match the table cloth and napkins – we love pale yellow, sky blue, lilac and baby pink for easter!
the pirate party we held for our son’s 5th birthday was as much fun organising and planning as it was for the children on the day. we altered some of their grandmother’s old clothes for costumes – with a bit of imagination and a stripy top, anything goes! we painted a canvas square for a flag, and made our own skull and cross bone bunting.
tropical food on the table helped set the scene of distant paradises and far-away islands. tiny portions of fish and chips were very tempting, washed down with flagons of home-made lemonade, and finished with a black cake with skull and cross bone icing.
we continued the skull and cross bone theme with a tattoo parlour and bundles of colouring-in sheets, rolled and tied with a black ribbon,
we devised a treasure hunt with coded stones,
at the end of the party every child had their own hand-tied bag of treasure to take home. our children loved this party, and it was well worth all the effort to make it so special and memorable.
one year we had an impromptu christmas in our family’s mountain retreat in a remote village in a natural park in the pyrenees. it’s a simple stable conversion, carved out of the mountainside with slate floors and walls, and rustic wood post and beams.
with limited time and only few resources, we relished the challenge of creating a christmassy atmosphere to make it magical and memorable for the children. luckily the holm oak next to the house needed a prune, so we cut bundles of leafy twigs to decorate the table, lights, mantelpiece and front door, tied larger shoots to the wooden posts and twisted more up the stair banisters. rosehips on a bush in the valley were a lucky find, and a bowl of clementines brought a pop of colour to the table.
a tangle of bushy foliage entwined with fairy lights gives instantaneous atmosphere!
the children got creative with twigs and a glue gun, making intricate wooden snowflakes. we kept ours rustic but they could easily be sprayed, painted or dipped in eco-glitter and hung with red ribbon for a little more pizzazz.
our bark crackers and napkins were perfect for the setting and we improvised with shepherds’ socks woven with local wool for stockings.
wherever your christmas is this year, step outside, take a look around you and bring a little nature inside. best wishes for a creative christmas!
with a bit of imagination it’s very easy to set the scene for a medieval knights and maidens party at home. a perfect excuse for spring-born children to dress up and entertain in true castle style.
first and foremost it’s important to spark enthusiasm for the party and build excitement. we found a special typeface on the internet and printed our own invitations. the children helped us roll up each one, then seal and stamp them with wax.
we dangled ivy from the garden over the front door to set the scene as guests arrived, then wound more up the banisters in the hall and around the lights, and dotted surfaces and corners with baskets and pots of seasonal flowers bought from the market in the morning. we love a roll of brown paper in our house, and often use it as a canvas for painting on the floor. this time it was perfect for rolling out as a table cloth, which we then painted with trailing vines. we made our own bunting from old wall paper and gift wrap, and dug out our most rustic jugs and plates for the table.
we chose rustic whole foods, ‘pain de surprise’ and decorated our slightly wonky, but very delicious, homemade cake with edible glitter and a crown of flowers.
the children dressed up in our hedgehog costumes, which we love, as they are all natural cotton and linen, and made by a family business in germany using local raw materials. not a bit of nylon in sight.
a jester was helpful, especially for the shy children to laugh at his silly antics, then we got everyone out in the garden for some bow and arrow target shooting. meanwhile there were prizes for children who answered all our medieval quiz questions.
we made our own crackers with knight jokes, chocolate coins, marbles and dice, and all the children left with their very own boy and arrow.