Gowans, summer flowers of the roadside.

My friend is in his 80s and extolls the floriferous days of his youth in the 1940s and 1950s. Gowan flowers are a memory he holds fondly. ‘Gowan’ is the Scots and northern dialect name for what the rest of us call ‘Moon Daisy’, ‘Dog Daisy’ or ‘Ox-eye Daisy’: like gigantic daisies on one-to-two foot stems. The composite flowers can be 2 inches in diameter with large yellow middles and white ‘petals’ forming a ring around.

In past times, gowans were common, my friend remembers, wild in farmers’ hay and pasture fields along with plants like pignut, sorrel and sweet vernal grass. In particular, a couple of acres on a south-facing slope, called Gowanbank, was thick with waving gowans every summer. He remembers vividly the town’s summer gala days, when a line of dressed floats paraded through the streets, when games and sports were held in the town field, when beer and tea flowed endlessly down people’s throats. Every year, one of the gala floats and its lassies was completely decked out in gowan flowers. That’s how common they were in the countryside before and soon after World War 2. My 1950s flower identification book states “Widespread and often abundant in grassy places.”

But when more food was needed to feed the increasing post-war population, farming intensified, flowery hay and pasture fields were ploughed up and reseeded with just one or two species of high-yielding grass, such as Perennial rye grass. Pignuts, gowans, orchids and other flowers became confined to unploughed gullies, field corners and a few farms which stubbornly remained old-fashioned. Then, from the 1970s and 1980s, when wild flower seeds became commercially available, councils added them to their sowing mix for verges of new roads. Today, you are most likely to notice gowans blooming on summer road verges as you rush by.
Gowan Bank is now a green, mown lawn, bereft of its waving, outsize daisies and there are no flower-decked floats on gala days; its gowans remain as a memory-painting in a countryman’s head.

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