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Spring Bulbs At Bow Cemetery

February 11, 2023
by the gentle author

Already I have some snowdrops and hellebores in flower in Spitalfields, 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 winter has taken it out of me, but feeling the warmth of the sun 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 emphasise 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 February – “sadly missed”

Find out more at Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

You may also like to read about

The Variety Artistes of Abney Park Cemetery

At St Pancras Old Churchyard

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Christine Swan permalink
    February 11, 2023

    What a cheering sight. I dislike winter but especially this year as we are restricting our use of heating so I am growing tired of being cold. I too have noticed warmth in the sun on my frequent walks. As I live further north, our bulbs are not in bloom just yet but it won’t be long.

  2. belinda permalink
    February 11, 2023

    this brings tears to my eyes
    hope and renewal
    with it a sense of the poignance
    and sadness

  3. February 11, 2023

    Simply beautiful. Thank you GA

  4. Sally Bernard permalink
    February 11, 2023

    Thank you, I wish I still lived around the corner when I read your blogs.

  5. February 11, 2023

    In the Hudson River Valley, we have a lot of winter left — but the beauty of this post provided
    anticipation and optimism.

    I especially enjoy seeing the broken fragments, amongst the undergrowth and blossoms.

    Divine imperfection.
    Onward and upward.

  6. Andrew Martin permalink
    February 11, 2023

    wonderful – uplifting – here in Minnesota we are still under a foot of ice and snow – this gives me hope I’ll soon see the 100s of tulips planted last fall around a new patio emerge in the Spring – thank you for the boost!

  7. Saba permalink
    February 11, 2023

    Thank you! The pictures and the text combined to create a visually and emotionally profound composition.

  8. Kelly Holman permalink
    February 12, 2023

    Thank you. 50 miles North and the snowdrops are coming to their peak of perfection, crocuses are starting to bloom and daffodils putting on good foliage.
    I hope the promise of spring restores your health soon. Best wishes.

  9. Carol Himmelman-Christopher permalink
    February 13, 2023

    I look forward to this first sighting of spring every year. Gives me hope in these still dark and chilly days in Berlin, Germany. Thank you!

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