December is a maligned month; people think it is cold and damp and awful, whereas it always brings spells of shirt-sleeve weather, and often we have beautiful blue skies and fine sunsets.

I have planted boxwood, hollies (a risky month for both of these; better wait till spring unless, like me, you see some great buy in December and can't resist), roses and so on. Roses and clematis planted in December commonly do quite well, if you can find them. March or even early April is when most people plant them, and when most dealers sell them, but I would always prefer a December planting if the varieties one wants are available.

This year my smallish Japanese maple, which I bought in Pennsylvania in a can because it colored so much later than the other Japanese maples, has outdone itself. Usually it's best the last week in November, but this year it is only now turning bronzy yellow. In a good year it colors beautifully, but if the fall is too mild, it waits until December, and then before the color develops fully, the leaves turn brown from a heavy freeze.

Still, it's nice to have leaves to look at long after most trees have dropped theirs.

I always feel good in those years when berries of certain viburnums (like V. setigera) hold on till Christmas. They are at their best around Labor Day, then they turn soft and the birds eat them. One plant has not been touched this year, and it pleases me to think the birds have enough to eat without bothering with the viburnums.

It took me a long time to realize that chickadees and other birds eat the seeds of the wild Japanese clematis, the one with flowers like a white cloud at Labor Day, followed by seeds. I used to cut it down in November, so I wouldn't have to fool with it in the spring, when everything else needs attention. But one year I got behind and noticed the birds eating like mad, so now I never cut it until the seeds are completely gone. And even then, I think certain birds find shelter on winter days in a huge old plant, so I wait until late March, then whack all the stems back to about 4 feet.

Gardeners rarely think of planting tulips in light woodland, as one would plant daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses, anemones and so forth. In a real woodland, out in the country, I suppose large tulips might seem gross, and every purist would object strongly. Tulips are, after all, creatures of sunbaked rocky plateaus of Asia Minor where it is too dry even for trees to grow. The tulips are frozen bitterly every winter, shoot up, bloom and die down in a matter of a few spring weeks before the parching summer begins. So they are utterly inappropriate for our rich damp woods.

I am a great purist about things except when I am not, and I like tulips under trees, and I justify this by saying that in town gardens, where there is a house and maybe azaleas and other highly exotic plants, a few tulips under the trees are all right. The one that would be best is possibly Tulipa sprengeri, a curious soft red color, but I never know where to buy it. But T. clusiana, peppermint-striped and a true wild plant, does admirably in the sort of oak-dogwood shade that one often finds in front of Washington houses.

What I am really leading up to, without having to say how I discovered that large-flowered tulips look fine beneath trees, is to assure you that if you have forgotten to plant some of your tulip bulbs, you can still stick them in near the dogwoods and hollies, as long as the spot gets sun in February and March, though very shady from late spring until winter.

If the shade is too dense, the tulips will fail or will develop sad fungal woes. But many gardeners would be astonished how much woodland shade these sun-loving bulbs will take.

Of course you can't cut the grass until the tulip leaves die down, which rules them out if the house is marble and grand. But with me I have no grass in front, just bushes and trees, and a little carpet of spring bulbs. First come the snowdrops and early crocuses, then chionodoxas and scillas and anemones, then daffodils, then tulips, then azaleas. Nothing happens after that; all is in heavy shade.

And I do think birds and squirrels move the shallowly planted small bulbs about and some seeds as well, so after a few years nothing is quite where it's supposed to be. Your crafty planting of 'Lady Killer' next to 'Blue Pearl' (two crocus varieties, just to show what I mean) is now rather a shapeless blob, and some of the original drifts have died out here and there and others, not planted, have showed up elsewhere.

All the same, I like the effect, and by the time the azaleas bloom they are sufficiently gaudy that nobody notices (at least I do not) the maturing (that is, withering) leaves of the early bulb flowers. Then as the azaleas finish, it is all so shady and variable in tones of green and shadow that again nobody notices the dying foliage. All you have to do is keep ivy from intruding, for it makes too dense a ground cover to suit these small bulbs.

So the 10 bulbs you recently discovered of some large-flowered tulip should really be no problem. Stick them in -- the individual bulbs may be several feet apart -- here and there beneath the dogwoods.

Or, if your garden is far too dressed up to allow of a woodland look, stick them in here and there in front of junipers, or in a rose bed, or at the side of a shed where you can use them for cut flowers. But plant them, it's not too late. Though as I say there is no point my telling you how I discovered the big tulips do well in woodland.