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Spring Flowers At Bow Cemetery

February 15, 2019
by the gentle author

When yesterday’s unseasonably warm sunshine brought temperatures of fourteen degrees to the East End and the promise 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 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”

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16 Responses leave one →
  1. February 15, 2019

    Beautifully written – thank you.

  2. David Morgan permalink
    February 15, 2019

    Thank you for yet another lovely article and such beautiful photographs. The cemetery is a real haven of peace, repose and nature. The Red Admiral butterfly on the stone especially poignant.

  3. Robert permalink
    February 15, 2019

    Seeing the first sign of spring is soothing after the dullness of wintertime.

  4. Juliet Jeater permalink
    February 15, 2019

    what a beautiful blog! My friend and I visited Brompton cemetery yesterday and now, after reading yours, Bow is the next one on our list. Celandines are a favourite of mine. Wonderful to see the Red Admiral too.

  5. Jill Wilson permalink
    February 15, 2019

    I hope you haven’t been coughing and sneezing again this year.

    A lovely piece to read…and great photos of the harbingers of spring.

  6. Dean Armond permalink
    February 15, 2019

    What a lovely article, thank you!

  7. John Barrett permalink
    February 15, 2019

    GA has done us proud today winter is waking up new life, a new beginning poets just love this time of the year. Poet John – Poetry Soc, Bristol.

  8. February 15, 2019

    A beautiful and beguiling piece of writing as always.
    Some of my family are amongst ‘ the numberless dead of East London’ buried there including a much loved Uncle Harry who loved flowers, he often took me to Victoria Park as a child teaching me the names of various flowers in the Rose Garden there…….how fitting that he lies resting under such a wonderful blanket of colour.

  9. Karen Chapman permalink
    February 15, 2019

    Absolutely wonderful!

    I’m finding as I get older, the key to life and living is to take in absolutely everything around you, no matter how small. Everything is significant.

    Thank you GA.

  10. Mary permalink
    February 15, 2019

    Beautiful uplifting images GA. I think the early bulbs convey a sense of hope and that better days are nearer – something we all desperately need at the moment. I found the image of the “Sadly Missed” Red Admiral butterfly particularly poignant. I hope seeing these harbingers of Spring made you feel better.

  11. Mark P permalink
    February 15, 2019

    A comfort and an inspiration, as you so often are…Thank you.

  12. February 15, 2019

    so beautiful…
    we still have snow on the ground here in wisconsin usa & probably won’t see flowers until march or april.

  13. Gerry Butler-fitzgerald permalink
    February 16, 2019

    Thank you for this post, GA.
    I remember being fascinated 20 or so years ago, watching the ORDER in which the bulbs erupted in the UK in Spring.
    Thank you. It came flooding back.
    The butterfly was the ‘cherry on the cake.’

  14. Elizabeth Olson permalink
    February 16, 2019

    Simply marvellous. Thank you!

  15. February 17, 2019

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention – we visited the cemetery this morning and had a most enjoyable walk around in the sunshine. The Spring flowers are at their best, and the park is a wonderful example of how nature can re-establish herself in a man made location.

  16. Maureen Cocklin (nee Buckle) permalink
    March 11, 2019

    Lovely article as always. In the 1970s my friend and I used the cemetary as a shortcut. I didn’t like walking through there struck though. We put on a bit of a sprint then.

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