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On The Eve Of Spring

March 19, 2021
by the gentle author

Spring begins in the northern hemisphere with the vernal equinox at 21:58pm tomorrow. In celebration, we are having a SPRING SALE with all titles in the Spitalfields Life Bookshop at half price. Enter ‘SPRING’ at checkout to claim your discount.


Click here to visit the Spitalfields Life online bookshop


Each year I return to Bow Cemetery in search of signs of spring. Already I have 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 March 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.

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

A single Red Admiral butterfly, out of season  – “sadly missed”

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Snow at Bow Cemetery

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18 Responses leave one →
  1. Sue Stamp permalink
    March 19, 2021

    Dear Gentle Author,
    Thank you for this morning’s blog, I feel enlightened and optimistic for the Spring as a result. Such beautiful images of the bright crocuses against the ageing stone and sleeping undergrowth of Bow Cemetery.

    I do hope your spirit and body warm up again soon with the promise of Spring sunshine.

    My very best wishes, Sue Stamp

  2. Joan Isaac permalink
    March 19, 2021

    Visually and verbally stunning – thank you GA.

  3. suzy permalink
    March 19, 2021

    Pure Joy ?✨

  4. March 19, 2021

    Beautiful writing and delightful photographs…..perfect for the impending Spring Equinox and to remind us all that brighter days are ahead.

  5. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 19, 2021

    I love this post, especially the contrasting of the living flowers with the all the gravestones.

    I am especially “crocus aware” this spring as I am just about to design a stained glass window for a hall in Croydon which got it’s name from the many crocuses (crocii?) which used to grow in the area.

  6. March 19, 2021

    A nice report about the Red Admiral in early spring. I, too, hope that spring will come soon and I’m about to enjoy nature, too.

    Love & Peace

  7. March 19, 2021

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  8. Linda Granfield permalink
    March 19, 2021

    That last photograph with the Red Admiral is pure poetry.

    Butterflies, especially the Red Admiral, signify the spirit and soul, transformation and resurrection. You’ve warmed us today with your lovely description of the resurrection of Spring.

    Thank you! And please be well.

  9. Cherub permalink
    March 19, 2021

    I’ve found in these past few weeks the emergence of snowdrops and crocus along my street has cheered me up and offered a bit of hope out of the covid situation. The third lockdown has been very strict where I’m based and has really affected people, many of us who are ex-pats haven’t been able to travel to see family at home for over a year now. Anything pretty, natural and cheerful has provided a great mental boost and I think we all need that after a year of dark days.
    This weekend I’m planning to decorate an Osterbaum (Easter tree) with painted eggs to brighten the living room of my apartment.

  10. Pauline Taylor permalink
    March 19, 2021

    Thank you GA. A lovely reminder that no matter how grim the days that we are living in now seem we must never give up hope. Spring flowers are the perfect example that much that is strong and beautiful can remain hidden until it is released by sunshine and showers and humankind is much the same, kindness and compassion just need nurturing and they will bloom again. Less attractive and rampant plants can overwhelm them at times but given the care of a gardener and his, or her, green fingers they can be removed and the bulbs allowed to grow and bloom in all their glory again. I live in hope that so it will be with our country again despite these dark days.

  11. Ann V permalink
    March 19, 2021

    Beautiful, a promise of spring. Thank you.

  12. March 19, 2021

    Greetings from chilly Boston,

    GA, thanks for reminding us of the exact time of spring’s arrival this year – we all really need it. Love your photos too.

    My first trip to London was in the third week of February (school vacation) twenty years ago. I thought I remember daffodils in profusion there and in Stratford. I just know there were blooms, so different from the climes in New England in late winter.

    Missing London today…

  13. david whittaker permalink
    March 19, 2021


  14. Sally Gregson permalink
    March 19, 2021

    Hey JV. Lovely images. I’ve just caught up with you on Instagram too. (Finally!). x

  15. March 19, 2021

    The beauty and optimism of this post is so well-timed. Thank you, as ever.
    You seem to have a gift for capturing the green velvet on these weathered stones…..and
    making it look downright “wearable”. I imagine Guinevere in a forest, wrapped in a robe of the stuff.

    Spring at last! Hurrah and huzzah.
    Stay safe, all.

  16. Sally Williams permalink
    March 19, 2021

    What a particularly lovely post this is! Thank you

  17. Lizebeth permalink
    March 19, 2021

    Just to show us that there is always life in death. These ancient cemeteries are beautiful places of peace, and history.

  18. Mary permalink
    March 20, 2021

    My grandmother was buried there in 1960. I was 10 and remember her funeral, following a horse-drawn hearse carriage–the horses wearing large black plumes–from her home (where her shrouded body lay in pine box in a bedroom before the burial) around the corner and up Southern Grove. The house itself backed up to the cemetery. Nice to think of Nanny surrounded by nature. Live over the Pond now so don’t get to visit very often.

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