Gardening with Prof Ian Rotherham

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In woods and hedges now look out for the white flowers of greater stitchwort, the rich azure of the bluebell, and the white of the wild garlic in damper areas; breathe deeply and take in the heady scent as garlic and bluebell intermingle. Spring is a wonderful time for native wild flowers and increasingly for non-native garden escapees. Phil Parker of Penistone was in touch about a mysterious wild flower growing close by his home.

“While out walking this morning I spotted a flower growing in a wall bottom among some brambles. I knew it looked familiar from browsing through my AA Book of the British Countryside. I have positively identified it as a fritillary, which according to the book is a southern dweller and very scarce. I am very excited about finding it and I thought you would be interested. It is at the roadside on Royd Lane at Millhouse Green to the west of Penistone.”

The fritillary, the flower not the butterfly, is indeed a rare native and used to grow, I am assured, in wet valley-bottom meadows in South Yorkshire. I have even seen it in profusion in a species-rich wildflower meadow at the home of Lord Scarbrough at Maltby, well actually on his back lawn. Here the plant is naturalised with a host of other locally native flowers. Did it originally come from the wilder landscape nearby? Who knows?

However, Phil’s flowers at Penistone I have no doubt at all were not filched from a native site in the region, but originated at a local garden centre where native fritillaries can be readily obtained. They are very easily naturalised into a suitable damp border or similar habitat in the garden. From domestication, these plants escape over the garden fence, either accidentally for example in green waste thrown (illegally!) into hedgerow or woodland edge, or deliberately planted and given their freedom. A bit disappointing I know, but nevertheless interesting. Of course there is a school of thought that all such plants making their bid for freedom should be ruthlessly eradicated which is a shame really. I have even been told of Sheffield City Council starting a campaign to remove Portuguese laurel from all local sites, as it is a non-native. This seems bizarre when many of the locations are totally artificial, created woods, and the laurel is not doing any harm but is one of many introduced species. Worse still, this is at a time when we cannot afford to manage the best bits of native landscape effectively and have lost most of our countryside and woodland services.

It all seems cock-eyed, and furthermore, the local Friends Group who reported this was not even consulted prior to work beginning. That really is out of order.

n Sightings: There is plenty happening across the region. If you want to see live, exciting action but from the comfort of your own home, then try the Sheffield University’s Peregrine webcam on

This will get you in and up close as the four eggs hatch and fledge. Cuckoos are in at Wharncliffe Heath and a red kite was spotted at Woodhouse Washlands. Just a little south of there, further along the Rother Valley, one of my BBC Radio Sheffield listeners reported a wryneck seen at Rother Valley Country Park. Common whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, willow warbler, chiffchaff, garden warbler and grasshopper warbler are all in song across the area.