I take ice storms quite well in the garden, since they do no damage beyond snapping off a few branches here and there, especially in early March, and snow does no harm at all. Loathsome, of course, but not harmful.

But what is terrible is a hard freeze, enough to turn soil to rock, followed by temperatures in the mid-sixties and a bit of rain. This produces a soft or even soggy top layer of soil, but a couple of inches down the earth is still frozen.

Such an outrage, especially when it is the first real freeze of the year, is disastrous for crinum bulbs, if you happen to have lifted a couple of small ones from the garden and set them in pots, intending to move them indoors for their first winter or two. I had done just this, feeling pleased at how well they had come along their first summer. After this freeze and thaw, both bulbs are now mush.

Such a freeze and thaw often takes care of Amaryllis belladonna permanently. And it does no good for any shallow-rooted plants, either.

Last year, while the roses were still halfheartedly blooming the week before Christmas, the temperature abruptly dropped to zero, and the damage was severe. This year we at least had a few chilly nights, and the temperature didn't drop below 20. Even so, I'd like to register strong disapproval of this sort of carrying on, and I feel sorry for gardeners with little alpines that can stand endless cold but not slushy earth over frozen earth.

Of all gardening operations, possibly the one that makes the greatest mess and is objected to most strongly by some people is the preservation of tropical water lilies through the winter indoors. A prime trouble is that if it doesn't freeze hard enough to kill the floating leaves until Thanksgiving, then the gardener does not dream of moving them in until then. By which time the water is icy, the temper is short, the rugs are down, the plastic bags are weak, the aquarium is not quite ready or is much too small, etc.

Year by year I watch for the infant water lilies borne in the center of mature leaves of such varieties as 'Daubenyana.' I collect these and plant them in shallow water in a large enamel pan which I set on the brick walk to get "as much sun as possible" to strengthen them for their winter ordeal of dim light in the house. And year by year they freeze to mush when a severe cold snap occurs without warning. Well, it's one less thing in the house.

But the big old plants in the pool are something else. Thanks to the water, they do not freeze even at 20 degrees, and you can lug them out in great bags and then start thinking what to do with them. They tend to drain through the bags (which always develop a few holes between the pool and the upstairs bathroom) for some days. You want them to dry out enough to get the roots out of the glue-like mud in which they have grown.

It does not do, by the way, to put the whole mass of mud and roots in the bathtub to dissolve the earth, for the tiny little drains of modern plumbing object to this, and it takes almost forever to scrape an inch or so of mud out of the tub, a thing I learned some years ago.

Assuming you can finally pry the plants loose from the gross bushel of dirt that clings to their roots, you can plant them in a large aquarium, just covering them with water an inch or so, and keeping the water at 60 degrees. Sometimes they will survive till spring, starting to wake up in late April. They cannot be planted in the pool till early June (sometimes one cheats on May l7) and the trick is to keep them going from April to June, without enough light, enough heat or enough space. Even so, if you have a high threshold of anxiety (and you will develop one in gardening) the aquarium method sometimes works. And sometimes does not.

Another method is to dry the plant and its mud, then rummage about for the hard little tubers the size of cherries. Sometimes they are the size of hazelnuts, sometimes as large as kumquats, sometimes as small as peas, but since you rarely find these they don't count. Wash them off, store them in a glass jar of sand with the top on, and wait as late as you dare (March) to remove them to an aquarium or a gallon jar with three inches of soil in the bottom and two inches of water on top. Give them heat and light, and it's up to you how you provide this in a fairly cool bedroom with an east window.

The sand in which you store the tubers should be damp and almost wet. Saturate the sand with water, drain the water off by holding the jar upside down, wait one day with the top off to let it dry further, then put in the tubers, covering them with the damp sand and screwing on the top.

For years I failed at this, frightened by warnings not to get the sand too wet. I discovered if the sand is dry, the tubers get dry rot. The sand should feel quite damp. All varmints love these tubers -- not that you have mice in the house, but put the tops on anyway. Of course the kind of tin that cookies come in will do, but for some reason wives accumulate old biscuit tins and refuse to part with them.

Last year I lost all my tubers of the great Nymphaea gigantea, but fortunately had collected some seed during the summer. I grew this in the pickle jar, prooducing absurdly weak little plants, but I set them in the pool in June and through grace abounding they flowered, from mid-July to mid-November. Theoretically it is impossible to raise this great blue Australian from seed to flowering the same year, especially without artificial heat or light. Hardly anybody has ever done it, and the glow of triumph makes up for much.

It is commonly thought a mistake to mulch garden irises with leaves. Reports of disaster are common. It is probably better to leave them alone all winter. But I cannot do it, of course. Pine needles two inches deep are probably much safer than leaves. Chunks of bark larger than silver dollars are probably better also. An experiment in Mississippi a few years ago gave good results, however, with just leaves, so that's what I have used. If you hear nothing of my irises next May you will know the leaves were a mistake.

"That's good." I said. "What's a flat tax?"

"A fair tax, a balanced tax, a simple tax and a tax that you would be proud to bring home to your mother."

"What's the catch?"

"You may pay less of a percentage of your income to the government, but you won't be allowed to deduct anything except mortgage interest on your primary residence."

"That's bad. Without second-home interest deductions we can all say goodbye to Florida. Will the new tax reform plan cut down on the budget deficit?"

"No, it has nothing to do with deficits. They call it 'revenue neutral.' It won't bring in any more money to the Treasury, but they claim it will be much fairer for the poor people."

"That's good," I said.

"Not necessarily. The poor people depend on private charity to keep their heads above water. Under the flat tax the first 2 percent of everyone's gross income is not deductible if you make a charitable donation. Very few people give more than 2 percent of their gross to charity. So with all the cutbacks in government services that Reagan has proposed, the private sector won't be able to take up the slack to provide a safety net for the poor. Hospitals, universities, foundations and all cultural institutions are in the same boat."

"So much for trickle-down economics. Tell me something good about this new idea."

"Corporation loopholes will be closed. You won't be able to depreciate any of your investments and there will be no more capital gains. Everything will be considered ordinary income."

"That sounds good."

"Don't be too sure. If companies can't get tax benefits for investing in the economy, they might put their money in Treasury notes, which the government has to issue to pay off the $210 billion deficit."

"Why is that bad?"

"If the companies don't build new plants or upgrade their equipment, they won't be able to provide jobs for the people. Besides, without loopholes there is no incentive for venture capital, which is supposed to create the industries of tomorrow."

"Therefore, although the flat tax is fairer, many people won't have salaries to pay it?"

"There's also a provision in the reform bill that the cities and states can no longer sell certain tax-free bonds to keep public services from falling apart. If they can't raise bond money for local projects, the cities and states will have to raise taxes that are also no longer deductible on your federal form."

"What other goodies do they have in the proposal?"

"The three-martini lunch will be a thing of the past."

"That's good. I never felt like going back to work after three martinis."

"What's bad about it is that every type of business entertainment will no longer be deductible, and thousands of restaurants, hotels, theaters, taxis, sports arenas and travel-related services will go down the tube. You could easily have millions of people pounding the streets."

"That does sound pretty scary."

"There is no reason to be frightened. Reagan will never get the flat tax through in its present form."

"That's good."

"It could be bad. While they're jawboning about it in Congress for two years, the economy could be stopped dead in its tracks. The longer business is confused the more chance you have of a really deep recession."

"You really made my day," I said.

"Don't complain. During the presidential campaign Reagan never promised the people a rose garden."

"He sure as hell did. Why do you think he was reelected?"