The Dancing Waters weren't supposed to start until noon, but they took off at midmorning for the early birds at the opening of the Washington Flower and Garden Show.

One bird didn't think much of it. He was a gigantic green parrot climbing around on a tree branch close to the fountain display, and when it began he turned his back on the whole thing and squawked.

He missed a great show.

Sixteen jets of water rose and fell to music while colored lights shot through the spray in a 10-minute eau-et-lumiere concert by technician-artist Jim Chlopek.

Water climbed in great white columns and fell in upon itself. Water arched in lovely curves that went red, blue and green by turns and sometimes all at once. Thin streams of water made shimmering fans in the air. Pink clouds of spray billowed up, to "The Nutcracker Suite."

"Ah, they'd have to do a little Tchaikovsky," a woman murmured. The parrot fluffed his head feathers and glared at the gathering audience. He was getting wet.

Now one, now six, now a dozen bursts of water erupted, red in the center and blue at the edges. The jets rumbaed and sambaed. Then everything went golden.

"Ooooh," said the crowd.

And icy blue-white.

"Ooooh," said the crowd.

The theme from "Rocky" came on, to a glittering finale: a rainbow 30 feet wide, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet.

A small boy started jumping up and down. Everyone clapped. The parrot glumly pecked at his branch.

"A lot of it is improvised," said Chlopek, who works for Dancing Waters Inc., a 30-year-old New York firm that specializes in displays at conventions. "I don't work from a score. It gets better as I warm up during the day."

He will perform 10 times a day through Sunday at the Convention Center. The show, which opened Wednesday, runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Saturday and closes at 8 Sunday night.

That will be a long night for Tony Garner and Archie Ferguson, who worked on the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission exhibit. They spent three 16-hour days piling eight tons of rocks, building a pond, spreading soil and planting flowers and trees. They figure it will take them all Sunday night to remove it.

There is a dogwood tree actually beginning to bloom ("We brought it indoors for a few days to speed it up"), a magnolia, a cherry tree in bud. There are banks of daffodils; a fine spread of red, white, pink, yellow, blue and orange primula; tulips, still asleep, and rhododendrons.

Gardens are everywhere: herb gardens, topiary, a night garden with lighting, cottage gardens and tiny meadows. An elegant ikebana garden features arrangements of the Sogetsu school's local branch. The Washington Cathedral has an instructive display carefully labeled ("Water is an important habitat element used for drinking and bathing . . . ") as well as an herb stall.

The commercial stalls, off to one side, sell everything that could conceivably relate to a garden, and more, from furniture to greenhouses, from pots to mulch, from jewelry to vinyl siding.

At a landscaping contractor's rock garden exhibit a woman was asking the man why his daffs were so small.

"That's the way they are when you don't force them," he said. "That's the way they naturally are."

The yellow daffs, their inch-high blooms aquiver, looked indignant.