YOU SHOULD never start new gardening projects in the spring, although I do every year.

Winter, you will notice, is a great incubation period for plans, and when spring comes you commonly get going on the arbor, the pool, the summer house, the terrace paving, the brick walk, the retaining wall, the post and trellis over the kitchen door, the new tool shed and the Lord only knows what else.

My assistant here (at home) asks if there is any compelling reason I cannot assist with the spring clean-up, apart from the fact that I am working on the new pool, the new posts, the lotus and papyrus paintings on the posts of summer house, etc.

So it commonly happens that just as the daffodils are in full sway, the effect is somewhat diminished by bags of mortar, odd tiles, varnish, lumber and so forth.

Every two years the lily pool must be drained and cleaned, and as I reminded you last fall, fall is the time to do it after the tree leaves have all fallen. It is chilly then, but that is the easiest time, anyway.

Circumstances prevented by doing it at the time I told you to, so I have a rather unlovely sight: the 100-square foot pool is drained of its water now, with about six inches of black ooze on the bottom.

This must all be shoveled out and put somewhere. Then the floor of the pool must be scrubbed. And before any of this happened, of course, the seven tubs of water lilies (all started into new growth) and vast quantities of seaweek had to be boarded temporarily in great standby tanks of water -- they cannot be left out in the air even for several hours, let alone the several days it takes me to clean the pool.

A thing the books never make clear is the ill temper that may be unavoidable in moving tubs of water lilies.

A plastic container holding 30 to 40 quarts of wet earth is not a pleasant playmate in any body-contact sport, but it (and I have nine, altogether, not counting the tropicals which are sulking in indoor aquarium durance) must be closely encountered; indeed, grappled with.

There is no way one man can lift these creatures out of the water. Not only are they immensely heavy, but the sides of the tub are slimy. All three dogs commonly assist, yet fail to speed up the operation. Members of the household, far less eager than the dogs when invited to "give a hand here" do not enjoy helping move the tubs back once the pool is cleaned for another two years.

Nothing in the garden is really difficult. Everything can be managed by an ordinary imbecile; indeed, that is why it is the greatest of all amusements. The only thing is that every operation takes time.

"Stake the peonies," say the books, rightly, and any fool can stake a peony. Only not at the same moment he is varnishing an arch, weeding out violets, tying back Madame (both Mme. Alfred Carriere and Mme. Gregoire Staechelin are among the most generous of climbing roses, and among the most glamorous, and among the most insistent at flinging themselves about), coddling the Japanese irises, scratching the new wisteria, digging post holes, planting peach trees and so on and on.

I realize now, thanks to my assistant's pointing it out, that for some decades I regularly launch a major lumber-and-mortar project every spring, and this interferes with pruning, scratching, tying, scrubbing operations.

In the future I shall undertake these projects in July, when the pace is less frantic. Now the thing is, you want to get all your weeds out by mid-September so that nothing over-winters (or not much), and you want your painting projects finished then.

Vigorous climbing roses, needless to say, should be trimmed back a bit, if they have produced 15-foot shoots, and tied rather firmly in the fall, since there will hardly be time to do it in the spring.

And now that I know when to do things, I shall of course never have and trouble in the future