AS I write this, I am housesitting for friends and looking after their dogs. They live in the countryside and own a commercial vegetable farm with lots of land that I have the privilege of exploring as I walk their two beautiful Hungarian Vizslas.

Right now the verges of the fields are resplendent with a wide variety of grasses and wildflowers, and bees and other pollinators are extremely busy bobbing from bloom to bloom gathering up precious nectar. I do wonder if the farmers deliberately keep the verges uncut to encourage these minibeasts into their fields to pollinate the flowering crops. I will ask my farmer friend as soon as he’s back from his jollies.

There is one flower that to gardeners is a pest, thanks to its ability to quickly and easily spread, but in the wild, it injects pretty little dashes of pink among the greenery. It has a rather unusual name in “herb Robert”, but goes under other quirky-sounding monikers, such as death-come-quickly, red robin, storksbill, fox geranium, squinter pip, crow’s foot and, my own personal favourite, stinking Bob. I don’t think there ever was a particularly pungent “Bob” that this flower is named after, but it is renowned for having a scent that is not entirely pleasant.

The plant is recognised by its pink, five-petalled head, fern-like leaves that are sometimes tinged with red, and deep red seed pods that are the bane of many a gardener’s life. They are very effective “spreaders”, propelling the seeds many feet away, so that they can land right in the middle of your beautifully manicured borders and start to grow where you don’t want them. They tolerate all types of different soils and can withstand winter too, so they can spring up almost anywhere.

As my dad says in his column from July 29, 1979, there is some debate as to where the name “herb Robert” came from. The mediaeval name was “Herbi Sancti Roberti”, which could be linked to Robert, Duke of Normandy who was a noted 11th century scholar. He was also the father of William the Conqueror, who became King of England in 1066 following the Norman Conquest. Another contender is St Robert of Salzburg, also known as Rupert, who was a missionary bishop born in AD710 and who achieved great fame for his Christian endeavours.

Closer to home, we have Robin Goodfellow, who in English folklore is a mischievous sprite, with the word “Robin” referring to devilish behaviour and evil deeds. He was also known as “Puck”, and appears true to form in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was said to lurk about farms and outbuildings and would get up to all sorts of mischief unless he was fed with cream and treated with kindness. If he was kept happy, he would carry out numerous helpful household chores.

We find many similar characters in other places, such as the brownie in Scotland, the leprechaun in Ireland, and across the pond, there is the lutin of France, the kabouter of Holland and the kobold of Germany. These were all forms of goblins who made nuisances of themselves if they were unhappy and, because they took offence easily, would desert your home forever if they felt they’d been insulted or neglected. Here in North Yorkshire, you may have heard of similar creatures known as hobs.

So it stands to reason that a stinky, annoying weed of a flower such as the herb robert is the emblem of these naughty little beings. But it also has links with the robin redbreast. In certain areas of folklore, the robin had a reputation as a portent of evil and death, and some believed that the flower belonged to both the robin and Robin Goodfellow and was a key element in their joint ability to create havoc.

The fact that some varieties have blood red leaves, stems and pods added weight to the ancient superstitions, although they did believe that it could do good of harnessed in the right way. Ancient herbalists would use it to treat nosebleeds, headaches and stomach upsets, as an antiseptic to heal wounds and as a repellent of mosquitoes.

As the weather has been so close and warm of late, it’s been perfect for mosquitoes, so I might just have to go out and get me a dose of stinking Bob.

By the way, on August 1, I will be celebrating Yorkshire Day with BBC Radio York who are bringing the community together over a Cake and a Cuppa. We will be at Coxwold Village Hall, from 10.30am to 12.30pm, and will be serving free home-make cakes, buns and scones with a cup of what you fancy. Everyone is welcome, so whether you’re by yourself, or want to bring friend, we’d love to meet you. Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug