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Spring Bulbs at Bow Cemetery

February 15, 2011
by the gentle author

When yesterday’s unseasonably warm sunshine brought temperatures of ten degrees to the East End and the promise of an early Spring, I decided to return to Bow Cemetery – where I spent one of the happiest days of last Summer – 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 feeling the warmth of the sun today and 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 Spring 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 Spring 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 persuasive 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.

It may be over a month yet before it is officially Spring, but we are at the beginning now, and I offer you my pictures as evidence, should you require inducement to believe it.

The Spring bulbs are awakening from their Winter sleep.



Dwarf Iris

Winter Aconites

Daffodils will be in flower next week.

A single Red Admiral butterfly, out of season in mid-February – “sadly missed”

My Crocuses from Columbia Rd Market in a Doulton Lambeth bowl.

Read my original story At Bow Cemetery

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18 Responses leave one →
  1. melbournegirl permalink
    February 15, 2011

    So moving. There is a legend here that a homesick sailor was buried with English seeds in his pocket, and the flowers later pushed up through the Australian soil.

  2. betsy permalink
    February 15, 2011

    In western New York State in the 40’s, my grandmother took me along to tidy up one of our family cemeteries, and I still think they are one of the best places to see flora and fauna! There is a lovely one on Fulham Palace Road which I visit when in London, where my own grandaughter and I saw jays, foxes, squirrels, butterflies etc. They are lungs in a very polluted area.

  3. Anne D. permalink
    February 15, 2011

    Douceur du printemps, merci.

  4. February 15, 2011

    beautiful bulbs.

  5. February 15, 2011

    How encouraging to see little signs of new life.

  6. February 15, 2011

    Some of your best ever photographs here Gentle Author. Wonderfully evocative. Thankyou.

  7. February 15, 2011

    Oh, spring! I forget every year what it’s like, beautiful!

  8. Anne Forster permalink
    February 15, 2011

    I love graveyards at any time of year, so peaceful usually!

  9. Gary permalink
    February 15, 2011

    All of this beauty is available free of charge to every reader of this blog

  10. February 16, 2011

    bravo g.a for witnessing spring and being rewarded by the solo flight of the dear butterfly 🙂
    exquisite photos

  11. Sonia permalink
    January 16, 2013

    Beautiful pictures! Have the inscriptions on the gravestones been transcribed? Descendants would love to know of ancestors buried here!

  12. big pussy permalink
    February 28, 2013

    wonderful blog, wonderful ideas and i made a poem from your words and some of mineAT BOW
    yesterday’s unseasonable
    warm sunshine brought temperatures of remembrance
    of that early Spring.
    A return to Bow Cemetery
    to see if the bulbs were showing yet around you.
    Some Snowdrops, Hellebores , a few Primroses
    You my life garden.
    And at Bow I was welcomed by the silent song of thousands of Crocuses of every colour and variety spangling, spacing sprucing the graveyard .
    And you lived on with these gleaming flowers.
    You in those last days , beaten and bowed, grey-faced and sneezing, coughing and shivering, the harsh Winter had taken it out of me,you wished for nothingness and believed it too.
    But Gods feeling
    and the warmth of the sun today I saw you again.
    My eyes seeing these sprouting bulbs , a profusion of life.
    I saw you once more

  13. Mos permalink
    February 24, 2014

    Thanks for sharing… Just a lovely sight…:)

  14. February 27, 2014

    Lovely comment from Gary!

  15. Linda Barney permalink
    June 10, 2014

    So serene. So peaceful, I last walked through here on a visit home in 2002, a short cut to Mile End Station from Spanby Road. Nature weaving her magic and allowed to do so at will. How very precious as are your splendid photographs. Thank you very much.

  16. rita m. sartori permalink
    April 7, 2015

    how comforting and delightful to see,that although they probably have no more relations alive around to bring them flowers ,nature is looking after his own just the same …..ashes to ashes.

  17. Clare Stevens permalink
    February 17, 2016

    Thank you for pointing us to this post today – I think I missed it when you originally posted it. Beautiful photos of a very atmospheric place. I love the juxtaposition of the snowdrops with the graves and the trailing ivy.

  18. Lesley permalink
    November 21, 2019

    Lovely. Cheered me up. Have planted yellow tuilips in our front garden.

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