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Spring Bulbs At Bow Cemetery

February 13, 2024
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

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The Variety Artistes of Abney Park Cemetery

At St Pancras Old Churchyard

5 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    February 13, 2024

    These pictures are very symbolic .
    They remind me of the blind Helen Keller’s words , “ If we turn our heads towards the sun we cannot see the shadows”.

  2. February 13, 2024

    I am definitely a summer creature. I like to bask in warm sunshine and dress lightly so I really don’t fare well in cold, gloomy weather. Yesterday was a beautiful day and the spring flowers were resplendent in the warming sunshine. Everything feels much more positive as the season turns a corner and heralds better weather.
    I love this post because it captures that feeling too. Amongst the tombstones there is sadness but hope too. The fragile beauty of spring flowers and the rare jewel of a butterfly, awakened from hibernation, makes us feel that there are good things ahead, no matter how bleak the past.

  3. Milo permalink
    February 13, 2024

    I was about to wax lyrical about flowers and butterflies and suchlike but found Christine had beaten me to it.
    Er. What she said.

  4. Cherub permalink
    February 13, 2024

    In Basel there has been a little bird singing in the trees opposite my bedroom window at 5am every morning, it signals spring is on its way. I don’t mind being woken up in the slightest, it’s a lovely sound to wake up to. There are some flats around the corner on the site of what was once part of a meadow, the wild flowers are emerging again after a long winter. Nature is something to treasure, as are the seasons.

  5. Severine permalink
    February 19, 2024

    Beautiful images. I think the spring bulbs are ready at St Anne’s Limehouse, too. Another beautiful and peaceful sanctuary.

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