Spring Flowers At Bow
Seduced by promises of an early spring, I decided to return to Bow Cemetery to see if the bulbs were showing yet. Already I have some snowdrops, hellebores and a few primroses in flower in my Spitalfields garden, but at Bow I was welcomed by thousands of crocuses of every colour and variety spangling the graveyard with their gleaming flowers. Beaten and bowed, grey-faced and sneezing, coughing and shivering, the harsh winter has taken it out of me, but seeing these sprouting bulbs in such profusion restored my hope that benign weather will come before too long.
Some of my earliest crayon drawings are of snowdrops, and the annual miracle of bulbs erupting out of the barren earth never ceases to touch my heart – an emotionalism amplified in a cemetery to see life spring abundant and graceful in the landscape of death. The numberless dead of East London – the poor buried for the most part in unmarked communal graves – are coming back to us as perfect tiny flowers of white, purple and yellow, and the sober background of grey tombs and stones serves to emphasis the curious delicate life of these vibrant blooms, glowing in the sunshine.
Here within the shelter of the old walls, the bulbs are further ahead than elsewhere the East End and I arrived at Bow Cemetery just as the snowdrops were coming to an end, the crocuses were in full flower and the daffodils were beginning. Thus a sequence of flowers is set in motion, with bulbs continuing through until April when the bluebells will come leading us through to the acceleration of summer growth, blanketing the cemetery in lush foliage again.
As before, I found myself alone in the vast cemetery save a few Magpies, Crows and some errant squirrels, chasing each other around. Walking further into the woodland, I found yellow winter aconites gleaming bright against the grey tombstones and, crouching down, I discovered wild Violets in flower too. Beneath an intense blue sky, to the chorus of birdsong echoing among the trees, spring was making a showing.
Stepping into a clearing, I came upon a Red Admiral butterfly basking upon a broken tombstone, as if to draw my attention to the text upon it, “Sadly Missed,” commenting upon this precious day of sunshine. Butterflies are rare in the city in any season, but to see a Red Admiral, which is a sight of high summer, in February is extraordinary. My first assumption was that I was witnessing the single day in the tenuous life of this vulnerable creature, but in fact the hardy Red Admiral is one of the last to be seen before the onset of frost and can emerge from months of hibernation to enjoy single days of sunlight. Such is the solemn poetry of a lone butterfly in winter.
The spring bulbs are awakening from their winter sleep.
Daffodils will be in flower next week.
A single Red Admiral butterfly, out of season in mid-February - “sadly missed”
Find out more at Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park
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