15 July, 2014

Holds upon Happiness

 - gardening for biodiversity 
in Cape Town, South Africa

My mother taught me to love reading. Not TO read, although one of my earliest memories, is going round the flat asking two parents and three sisters to read to me. But no one would. So little Diana curled up in a big chair. And read. A whole book. All by myself. My mother, at 97 in 2010, was still reading voraciously and shared this with me.

Eve Palmer and roses from June 2010
Little wooden Dutch doll was my mother's

Eve Palmer wrote gardening books which are a delight to read, for the joy of her words, and the gentle illustrations. This one, written in 1989, is – Under the olives, a book of garden pleasures. Her preface …

Dark Danish cat from Jurg's sister
blonde cat (for bookshelf) found on the spine of England in the Pennines

I woke at three o’clock one morning and heard a turtle dove calling in the darkness.

Three can be a bad hour full of troubled ghosts and formless cares, but not this time. I lay, delight slowly spreading from the heart to the head, to my fingers and toes, listening to the bird – surely the bird of Africa – singing in the night.

It was still calling when dawn came. I stood at the window looking out at the trees taking on form and shape with the light and listening, not only to the dove, but to the chirruping of innumerable small birds among the leafy branches. To have a garden to enjoy tree-tops and birds and other such things – what good fortune! And there came into my mind words that I had read in a journal of the Royal Horticultural Society a little while before written by a hard-bitten and unsentimental gardener. They were “Holds upon happiness”, the things that had brought him particular pleasure in his garden.

When they can momentarily forget water rationing and drought, cutworms and rust, the state of the world and time for weeping, all gardeners know they have them, these “holds” that light the day, and it is good for the temper, the flesh and the spirit to consider them and sometimes to parade them.

Books, ah yes, they follow me home mum!

Garden books and cat books and ...

My mother did not Google to track down a quotation. She simply read widely, thought it sounded familiar and tracked it down to its source – in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. First published in 1818, the year after she died. It is in Chapter 22.

Rain daisies in July 2010

Heart leaf on Hibiscus tiliaceus

‘But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take: and though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?’

Clouds on a May 2008 evening

I pick the open roses ahead of fierce weather. Left in the garden, rain will reduce them to porridge. History. Ancient, not modern. But so they are a hold upon happiness to us.

Winter in July 2009

In 2010 I borrowed these books from my mother, when Jack of Sequoia Gardens commented - Ah, Diana... what a lovely post! How I enjoyed it!
Eve Palmer is the person in this world I most regret not meeting... especially as only weeks before her death I discovered that the Serina she speaks of as her 'young friend' was in fact the Serina I knew as a student - because I remet her at a friend's home. She was going to take me to meet Eve and see her garden, but it never happened and the garden too is lost to development...
I dip into her books regularly...

Pictures by Diana and Jurg Studer  
of  Elephant's Eye on False Bay 

(If you mouse over teal blue text, it turns seaweed red.
Those are my links.
To read or leave comments, either click the word Comments below,
or click this post's title)


  1. such a beautiful heart warming post, oh this was a joy to read,

  2. Warm thoughts and warm, wise words--from you, your mother, and Eve Palmer. I mus get a copy of this book! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I feel such a deep sense of sadness for all those who have never, and will never, pick up an actual book and delve into it's magic. To be lost within the pages of a really good book is to me the ultimate "me" time. To be able to sit and read outside on a warm summers day - in the shade of a tree - I am rich beyond words...

  4. I'm looking forward to the library in False Bay - said to be one of the best in Cape Town! In Porterville I'm reading the few library books that appeal to me, for the second, or even third, time.

  5. Nothing like a real book on the things we love to help connect with others around us and nature. They are some of my favorite reads as well. I've only met one gardening author once and had lunch with her. We had such a nice day. I like books that have great detail on the landscape along with all the sounds. Those books are magical.

  6. I suppose in a way you get to know Eve - and Jane Austen through their writings. I also love reading about nature and gardens, words that evoke images. It was interesting to see a bit of your bookshelf.

  7. I think Eve Palmer would have enjoyed your company Diana. I have to confess, although I am never without a book, its all real escapism stuff from authors, like, Steven King, Dean Koontze, Peter James, you get the idea.
    Mind you, we gardeners are lucky in the fact that we get so much pleasure from the world around us. Only last night, Myra called me to come over to the kitchen window quickly where I found her excitement was brought on by a number of bats darting around our back garden. You see, we have never before witnessed this. Alistair

  8. My parents were also keen readers. I probably inherited that from them; our house is full of books, lots of books; so many books so little time. I fully agree with the quote “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

  9. A lovely post. I too read early, kept at it and keep at it still. I'll have to look up Eve Palmer: new to me--but never, of course Jane Austen, long a companion. My mom taught me to love books, too.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Oh yes, in reference to your comment, I am continuing to post, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the state of other projects. I also am posting at a couple of other places once in awhile, which takes time away from the blog. Thanks for putting me in Feedly.

  10. Your posting inspires me to write down some of the many 'holds upon happiness' in my garden. Recalling will be good when I'm feeling blue. P. x

  11. I love the concept of "holds upon happiness" -- and gardening provides so many. I confess that Northanger Abbey is my least favorite Jane Austen novel, but I may reread it just for this quotation. I've looked to see if Eve Palmer's book is available in the US. Only two libraries own it, but I've added it to my "want to read" list. -Jean

  12. Diana,
    thank you for sharing!!! And you are so very right - a physical book in my hands, a good or interesting story ... that's like walking in a wonderland!
    Have a great time!
    All the best from Austria

  13. Diana, this was such a sweet post. I like that you differentiate between learning to read and loving to read. There is such a difference. Those who don't discover that love miss out on so much. Your post reminded me of the bird song I am hearing each morning when I wake. There was nothing but lawn when we bought our property.... so few birds. and now five years later I wake to hear birds and see them light into the small trees we have planted. Holds upon happiness indeed. and now I realize I've never read Northanger Abbey. How could I have missed this book?

    1. (I'll confess - I still haven't read either book). I enjoyed the connections my mother made. Both books are waiting to be Holds upon Happiness one day soon.

      Our visitors delight in birdsong here, and our estate agent has gone home determined to invite birds to her own garden!

  14. Love the idea of 'holds upon happiness' Diana....I must track down Eve Palmer books as well.