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The Bluebells Of Bow

April 17, 2023
by the gentle author



With a few bluebells in flower in my garden in Spitalfields, I was inspired make a visit to Bow Cemetery and view the display of bluebells sprouting under the tall forest canopy that has grown over the graves of the numberless East Enders buried there. In each season of the the year, this hallowed ground offers me an arcadian refuge from the city streets and my spirits always lift as I pass between the ancient brick walls that enclose it, setting out to lose myself among the winding paths, lined by tombstones and overarched with trees.

Equivocal weather rendered the timing of my trip as a gamble, and I was at the mercy of chance whether I should get there and back in sunshine. Yet I tried to hedge my bets by setting out after a shower and walking quickly down the Whitechapel Rd beneath a blue sky of small fast-moving clouds – though, even as I reached Mile End, a dark thunderhead came eastwards from the City casting gloom upon the land. It was too late to retrace my steps and instead I unfurled my umbrella in the cemetery as the first raindrops fell, taking shelter under a horse chestnut, newly in leaf, as the shower became a downpour.

Standing beneath the dripping tree in the half-light of the storm, I took a survey of the wildflowers around me, primroses spangling the green, the white star-like stitchwort adorning graves, a scattering of palest pink ladies smock highlighting the ground cover, yellow celandines sharp and bright against the dark green leaves, violets and wild strawberries nestling close to the earth and may blossom and cherry blossom up above – and, of course, the bluebells’ hazy azure mist shimmering between the lines of stones tilting at irregular angles. Alone beneath the umbrella under the tree in the heart of the vast graveyard, I waited. It was the place of death, but all around me there was new growth.

Once the rain relented sufficiently for me to leave my shelter, I turned towards the entrance in acceptance that my visit was curtailed. The pungent aroma of wild garlic filled the damp air. But then – demonstrating the quick-changing weather that is characteristic of April – the clouds were gone and dazzling sunshine descended in shafts through the forest canopy turning the wet leaves into a million tiny mirrors, reflecting light in a vision of phantasmagoric luminosity. Each fresh leaf and petal and branch glowed with intense colour after the rain. I stood still and cast my eyes around to absorb every detail in this sacred place. It was a moment of recognition that has recurred throughout my life, the awe-inspiring rush of growth of plant life in England in spring.

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg T permalink
    April 17, 2023

    Yes, it’s all happening … my bluebells have just started, the cowslips are colour-bombing the area, I saw my first ladybirds ( 7-spot ) of the year a couple of days back, I’ve now seen 4 species of butterfly { Peacock. cabbage white, small tortoiseshell, brimstone } & some bumblebee species are also about

  2. April 17, 2023

    I live close to a small wood and a much larger one. The latter had significance in the English Civil War. Cromwell’s forces camped there and apparently, he met the Devil there the night before the Battle of Worcester.
    When I visit at this time of year, it is ablaze with bluebells, violets, wild garlic and fading wood anemones. When the sun is out, the scent of bluebells is almost overpowering. However, this year, the paths are muddy and the lack of sunshine has pushed flowering back. With such a grim spring, we are surely due a better summer.

  3. Eve permalink
    April 17, 2023

    Nature reclaims & restores the land as was intended, whilst its earthly sons & daughters sleep – old friends & family return to pay respects & vigils keep…

  4. Debra. E. Sewell permalink
    April 17, 2023

    Its a sad sad thing that towns abandon cemeteries of the poor citizens. Its a final betrayal and tragic. However, it is a beautiful place to meander and be. Magical in its history and peace. Plus your rainy day walk created a wonderful mood. So much green, little bitty flowers.

    Thank you for your photos on your walk. Beautiful


  5. Katya permalink
    April 17, 2023

    Exquisite observations on weather’s evanescence.

  6. Cherub permalink
    April 17, 2023

    There is a beautiful area near my hometown in Scotland known as the Bluebell Woods, when you walk there it has a view over the Firth of Forth.
    Meanwhile here in Basel I’m loving spring despite the showers, whilst shaking a fist at the yellow flowering hazel bushes everywhere that play havoc with my sinuses!

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