A Windy Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, it’s been a right old mixture of weather today – I’ve been pelted with hailstones, baked in the sun, rained on and nearly blown over. But it’s also been rather exhilarating – in the Alps they say ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute’ and that could have been the mantra for today as well.

As it’s the day before Mother’s Day, the cemetery was very busy. One man stopped me to ask where the chapel was, as he knew his Mum was buried close by, but wasn’t sure exactly where. Sadly, there are two chapels and a crematorium in the cemetery, so all I could do was send him off to the most likely one and keep my fingers crossed. At 190 acres, the cemetery is enormous, and it’s very easy to get turned around. I hope he found what he was looking for.

In spite of the weather, the blossom is looking very fine. Apparently the flowers on this cherry develop a ring of pink at the base of the stamen when they’ve been pollinated, as an indication to bees to head off to another bloom.

And the primroses are in flower in the woodland grave area. I love how some pale pink ones always seem to turn up, planted or not.

There seems to have been quite a lot of tree-felling this week. I have to bear in mind that this is a cemetery, and people die, and space is needed to bury them in. I do hope that some of the much-needed wildness is preserved, though. This cemetery has been a godsend for so many people this year.

I find some daffodils that I rather like, with pale cream flowers and a lemon-yellow trumpet, plus there are some of those miniature ones that I have a soft-spot for.

But my heart is really with the wildflowers, like the red deadnettle that’s flowering in such profusion. There are quite a few bumblebee queens about, being buffeted by the wind, and plants like this are a god send.

The feverfew will be open soon, too – I love the buds, they look like tiny buttons.


Off to the loos (another godsend, especially on a windy day like today – there’s something about chilly breezes and bladders that seems intertwined). On the way, we pass the three mallards that we saw last week: what looks like a mated pair, and a lone drake. What’s going on, I wonder? Is the lone drake hopeful that he can woo the female, or is he from last year’s brood, or is he just lonely?

And there are some goat willow catkins, which will soon be full of bees, I have no doubt. I sometimes think about finding a miniature willow for next to my pond, but I’m not sure if there is any such thing. I know that these catkins are a very useful source of pollen at this point in the year. Actually, I think the Kilmarnock willow is a tiny version of the goat willow, now I come to think of it – any experience, readers?

Goat willow catkins

We trundle on through a rain storm, stopping briefly to admire this splendid cherry.

And then it’s a quick loop through Kew Road and Withington Road, the least-peopled part of the cemetery. It is full to busting with lesser celandine, which carpets the woods with its heart-shaped green leaves and shiny yellow flowers.  In a month or so it will be completely gone, and the bluebells and Queen Anne’s lace will have taken over, but for now it’s definitely in charge.

Someone has left some chestnuts and hazelnuts on a tree-stump for the squirrels. By the nibbling, I’m sure they’re extremely grateful.

And the sun pops out for a few minutes.

The crocuses are mostly gone, but are hanging on in a few places.

And I rather like the spots where the daffodils have gone feral amongst the brambles and the ash saplings.

And as if to prove that lesser celandine is not the only buttercup in these parts, here is a very early creeping buttercup, pointing its sunny little face up to the sky with what I can only hope is not misplaced confidence in the beginning of spring.

Actually, the strongest sign of spring to me is not the lesser celandine, it’s the leaves of the cow parsley popping up through the dead leaves wherever I look. The very first of the umbellifers to flower around here, the white flowers will probably begin to open in late April.

But then, they will be superseded  by the hogweed, and today I saw my first hogweed leaves emerging from the ground. They look so green and toothsome at this stage! And although the flowers of this family can look rather similar, the leaves are a real giveaway.

I love the way that the pace of life quickens at this time of year – the trees are full of robins singing and blue tits arguing, jays and magpies squabbling, squirrels chasing one another. Although we’re still bleary-eyed from winter and lockdown, they are at the high point of their year, with several months of hard work and challenge ahead of them. But how nice to know that, in spite of our human problems, the world still turns, squeaky wheels notwithstanding. There is such pleasure in small things that can be so easily overlooked when things are ‘normal’. I hope we don’t forget about these small pleasures when the world opens up again.

8 thoughts on “A Windy Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. Fran & Bobby Freelove

    A lovely blog full of interest. We like that someone leaves food for the squirrels. We always take food out with us on our walks and we get so many birds that follow us down to where we feed them.
    You’re right about the Kilmarnock willow, a true dwarf one, gets to about 6ft tall, the crown will bulk out to about the same too. It doesn’t require much maintenance, just prune out any dead branches or shorten them if they get too long. You can put them in pots but they’re probably better in the open ground. The only real requirement is they like a sunny spot.

  2. Ringgi

    I agree that life quickens about now, and thank goodness for that. I’ve had enough of winter.
    I’d go for a Kilmarnock willow. I’ve never seen one that got too big and out of hand.
    The pinkness of the cherry blossoming makes me think it may be a purple leaved cherry plum, either Prunus cerasifera Atropurpurea or Nigra. It’s still a bit early for Japanese cherries. Cherry plums have been doing their stuff down here in Dorset since the end of February.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I think you’re probably right about cherry plum, Ringgi – I have a lot of trouble with decorative fruit trees (at least before the fruit appears, and sometimes even then….)

      1. Ringgi

        I am trying to figure out the order of flowering, of cherries. I wonder about this every year. Cherry plum are the first, with the green-leaved ones flowering before the purple/red-leaves ones. There are loads of cherry plums along our roads and they really stand out just now. Blackthorn is beginning to blossom round here, too, and I expect they will take over from cherry plum over the next few weeks. There seems to be an overlap of these two Prunus genera. The Japanese cherries follow on later, but I’ve noticed one or two proper pink flowering trees already. I think these might be ‘Accolade’. According to Alan Mitchell’s tree ident book the order of flowering of the species/varieties stays the same, but the actual dates of flower vary from year to year and location.

      2. Bug Woman Post author

        That book sounds fascinating, Ringgi – I’ve noticed how the different umbellifers come and go in waves. So interesting to see the precision of some of these niches in time, and it will be fascinating to see if they’re disrupted by climate change or if the plants adapt….

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