I know lilies are not blooming now, but this seems the time to comment on planting lily bulbs in late March or April.

For years I refused to plant lily bulbs except in November (or in the case of madonna lilies, in August-September), because that's the way God meant it; otherwise, why do we have November?

But several times in recent years I have planted them in early spring, and now am ready to confess that storage and digging techniques have improved so radically (in the relatively few years since I was a teen-ager) that it is now safe to do so.

Fairly rapidly, as plant distribution goes, the white trumpet lily, 'Black Dragon,' has become a standard fixture of American gardens, and no plant deserves its popularity more.

I first bought it many years ago when it was quite costly, by my standards, but now it is as cheap as any. The strain (raised from seed, not propagated from scales) has been well fixed, so that although they vary slightly from the original clone, they are for all practical purposes equally good.

In fact, when DeGraaff (the great breeder and popularizer of lilies) was in the retail business, I bought a bulb of 'Black Dragon Strain' from him. It was $10, I think, but less than the cost of the original 'Black Dragon,' and the point is, when they bloomed, the seedling of the strain was just slightly finer than the original clone.

Many lilies are difficult to grow, but many are not. There is no doubt the wild species are plants of exceptional beauty, but often more difficult to manage in gardens than the garden varieties. Lilium brownii, for example, has usually been difficult in gardens and never very plentiful, either, but 'Black Dragon,' which has something of its beauty, grows as easily as any ordinary perennial.

One year I unwisely boasted of my success with Lilium langkongense, which is not all that common in gardens. I had grown superb stalks of it, about waist high, for three years, next to a fine plant of Rosa rubrifolia, which has dusky gray- purple leaves. No sooner had I said how handsome it was (the point being: I grow it well, not many people do) the whole clump died on the spot. Worse than that, I read that everybody had gotten sensation- ally fine bulbs of this lily, so all the lily people were growing it as well as I, or indeed better.

In the wild lilies, if you happen to get bulbs of superlative quality, they tend to do better, but even so they are often prey to mosaic or botrytis or fusillarium or other monstrous woes, and they tend to die out.

But back to the kind that grow well in gardens, especially hybrids that have a number of seedling generations back of them. These bring considerable glory to the garden for surprisingly little effort.

Apart from the great white trumpets, there are gold trumpets, equally easy. And a whole range of hybrids of Asiatic lilies in pastel colors, and of course in flaming reds and oranges, like the grand 'Enchantment' that forms clumps from a single bulb.

The hybrids of L. speciosum and L. auratum are reasonably well behaved in gardens. Somewhat to my surprise, I found that things like 'Silver Imperial' did not like the nice peaty bed I gave them in semishade, but flourished against a west-facing house wall overhung with branches from a large pin oak, where they get little air circulation and extremely little sun.

Hybrids they may be, but lilies they still remain, with the perversity of their tribe.

Our own wild American lilies can be extremely difficult in cultivation, but a happy exception is Lilium superbum, so named because it is superb, not because it is a super bum, as a friend of mine once assumed. It is worth trying, planting among azaleas, since it blooms when the magenta peril is past, and when well grown and happy, this lily may produce stalks 8 feet or even 10 feet high with plenty of yellow-orange Turk's-caps. It needs no special care and is relatively permanent.

All lilies I have ever tried (though I am far from being very knowledgeable about lilies) have insisted on good drainage. Sometimes it is worth growing them on raised hillocks a foot above the surrounding earth.