Brown gold, buried treasure

I am waiting for winter. The plants don’t believe it’s here yet, and though they’re reluctant to flower, they put on new leaves.

So there is the dilemma: to ditch the perennials and replant with bulbs, cyclamen, wallflowers, the wintry stuff, to edge with garish polyanthus – or to love the gradual decline.

As their leaves fall, the loftiest stems and canes look gaunt and fragile. Clumps of greenery denude to a naked skeleton of stems spun with dewy spiders’ webs.

Foliage turns mushy, but the buds are hard, close against the stems. The earth comes into its own, everything returns, energy dripping into it like a sump.

I wake up and there is a nip in the air, the wormery is full. It is time to act. From the wormery I take the middle tray, empty out the new soil, soft and fibrous like fruitcake, sweet-smelling, cold and wet.

In the bottom tray is a rich, muddy slop, pure wormcasts that you can only wipe out with your fingers, brown guano, brown gold. There are stray worms in it that have fallen through.

I buy bulbs at the flower market, cheap brown bags full. crackling, rustling and dry.

The wallflowers come bare rooted and have to be soaked in the sink. They are brittle and dirty with light brown clay, but they revive in cold water. Like cabbages, they grow stealthily throughout the winter, some natural anti-freeze protecting them from the cold.

The plant thieves seem to have gone, but everything I plant has a dun-coloured disguise. I paste the worm slop around the roots, push back the soil and cover with a light eiderdown of leaves.

The brown perennials’ stems are like flak towers, fuzzing the definition, sending the gaze astray. Bulbs find their own depth, but I dirty their nut-coloured paper skins, pushing them into the filthy earth.

Brown gold, they are buried treasure. Their hope is as hard and pungent as onions.


The coronavirus outbreak sadly means the Hackney Citizen is unable to print a monthly newspaper for the first time in its 12-year history.

At a time when independent and trusted news is more important than ever, this was an incredibly difficult decision to have to make.

Without print advertising, our major source of income, a one-off donation from anyone who can afford it will help our small team keep the website and social media feeds running through this unprecedented crisis.

When Hackney and the wider world has fought off this virus and we return to some semblance of normality, the print edition will be back.

Find out how you can donate

Thanks in advance for your support, and stay safe.