THE PUSSY WILLOW is now in bloom to remind us of that time of year in which Nature can stand a good bit of improvement.

Flowers are extremely few this time of year unless into his own hands and planted some of the bulbs that garden writers are forever recommending.

But back to the pussy willow. It blooms in gardesn or along alleys now, and the usual one makes a bush size of a lilac, or say 12 feet.

It is easy, as early as January, to cut branches and set them in pails of water for the house. The catkins or pussies are sheathed by only one scale which readily parts allowing the silky catkin to emerge.

After a few days the stamens (the male sexual parts) reipen and shed their yellow pollen, and I think many people are allergic to it, but if so they probably know it.

As you doubtless know, the cut branches root freely in vases of water and can be planted outdoors, though most of them fail to survive the shock of transplanting.

It is easier, if the idea is to raise pussy willows, to stick cuttings directly into the ground in November or, for that matter, now, without rooting them in water first.

In any case, the gardener would only want one plant, I would think, and it is inconceivable that one way or another there should be any problem rooting a plant. Pussy willows can, of course, be bought at nurseries and this saves the anxiety (but also misses the pleasure) of seeing the shrub develop from a cutting.

Willows in general have a variety of names, and I am never sure which ones are correct. The usual pussy willow is often called Salix discolor. I used to grow one that made a tufty bush only four or five feet high, called S. gracilistyla, which looked nice with its pinkish catkins over a colony of the pretty blue bulb flowers of glory of the snow (Chionodoxa sardensis was the one I used there) and an extremely deep pink form of the star magnolia which I never see anymore and no longer know where to acquire. No matter.

In any case, this pussy willow looked well with the very early tamarisk that blooms before the leaves. I used to whack it back to encourage plenty of new growth for a good show of catkins the following year, and also to keep it lounging into the tamarisk, which it inclined to do.

No plant can stand indefinitely to have severe pruning year after year, so the pussy willow succumbed after about five years.

The truth is, the gardener after 5 or 10 years may prefer to let a plant go rather than not.

Sometimes the star magnolia will grow more vigorously than expected, or the locusts will, or perhaps the chionodoxa will seed themselves into a new and better place, or a loon driving home from a barbecue stand will crash his car into a prized plant (it did not kill it, mercifully) or, in a word, the world changes.

In the garden it is all a question of the gardener's individual rhythm. People who are not gardeners are sometimes puzzled to hear a gardener has got rid of some fine plant, not understanding that the gardener had got some new idea in mind, or was simply tired of the same old Davidia.

It also commonly happens that the gardener plants something because he is on fire at the beauty of its bloom or winter buds or fruit, and has not thought how it is going to look through the rest of the year.

Gradually he tends to celebrate plants that look fine month after month, and to care less for plants that may make a lady squeal (as you might say) when in bloom, but do nothing much for the garden as a whole.

Squealers (that is, those flowers that cannot be left out, no matter how brief their glory) certainly include the winter-blooming crocuses and snowdrops, which have no foliage or fruit of consequence, but which dazzle the gardener's eyes in February and March.

Even in terrible winters, such flowers begin to bloom in February, and did this year. Young gardeners may be unaware of those long weeks in late winter when the skies are blue and the temperature is in the 50s, and one trots about the garden to see what is going on. It will be weeks before the leaves of the trees come out, weeks before the dogwoods - or even the forsythias - bloom. That is why things like snowdrops, which would hardly be noticed in spring or summer, have a value far greater than the usual young gardener thinks of.

After a few years it finally dawns, or should, that those late-winter weeks might as well be bright with such flowers, along with the Asian witch hazels and the pussy willows and wormwoods (wrecked this winter) and mahonias (delayed this winter) and so forth.

Sometimes dried pussy willows are offered for sale, in bunches of branches. If you mean to root them, the stems must of course be green when you scrape the bark.