We've had a good winter with relatively little cold -- none of that below-zero business to contend with this year, but the spring is late simply because February was a few degrees colder than usual and things were held back.

Most years I see the first flowers of a wild crocus (Crocus seiberi 'Violet Queen') the last of January, but this year not till the first of March; and some years the snowdrops have bloomed Feb. 4, but this year not until the second week in March at my place. I count on the first blooms of the daffodil, 'February Gold,' on March 16 (one year on March 10) and it looks as if they might be a day or two late this year.

As the season advances, things catch up, and I imagine April 25 will find us, as always, awash in dogwoods and Darwin Hybrid tulips and azaleas and late daffodils.

One nice thing about daylilies, in fact, is their blooming from mid-June onward, with the peak about the end of the first week in July. We can have horrendous storms, of course, as we can at any time of year, but I can think of no year in which these faithful creatures failed to bloom about as usual.

Fashions change, of course. The daylily began as a plant valuable for mass bloom in the hot weather, so gardeners attached importance to the number of flower buds on a stem -- the more buds, the longer the stalk remained in flower. Nowadays there is less emphasis on that, and gardeners seem more interested in the individual blooms, which admittedly are very handsome in many modern varieties.

As garden plants go, daylilies are fairly indestructible, or at least they are less bother than most things. But garden varieties should be dug, separated (not into single fans, but perhaps four or five fans of leaves) and replanted about every five or six years, depending on how vigorously they have grown. This is a great nuisance, and more work than it seems, until you do it.

The plants are only just now sprouting green shoots again, after the winter. It is thought best to wait until the leaves are six inches high before digging and dividing the clumps. I have never lost a daylily that I can think of, but then I never lost Japanese irises either, until one year I divided them in late winter when the new leaves were only half an inch high. Some sharp freezes occurred after that, and to my amazement I lost every plant. Odd. So I am in no great hurry to dig the daylilies yet.

Some people grow plum trees as ornaments and several things can go wrong with the fruit. First, some ornamental plums (Prunus pissardi and P. blireyana among them) do not flower much once they are past the flush of youth. Theoretically they can be encouraged by pruning as the leaf-buds begin to open -- this is supposed to inspire a lot of new growth, which will flower -- but I am always nervous pruning plums, since they so readily die back when the wood is cut.

Plums bloom early, especially in sheltered places. I have seen them trying to bloom at my place in January, so sometimes the flower buds are simply frozen and no fruit results. Another sad thing is that birds eat the undeveloped flower buds over the winter. They sit there looking pleased with themselves and when the tree blooms there are only a few flowers at the very tips of wispy branches which happen to be too fragile to support even a sparrow. You could net the tree in winter, of course, if birds are the problem.

Finally, almost all plums require pollination by another plum. The European varieties (of which 'Reine Claude' is the best I have eaten) require other varieties of European plum nearby, if there is to be a good set of fruit; and the Japanese plums (such as 'Santa Rosa') require other Japanese varieties as pollinators. There are a few kinds of plums that bear fruit without another tree, such as 'Stanley,' a European plum of the prune type, which means only that the fruit has enough sugar in it to dry (into prunes) without going bad. You can also eat it fresh, naturally, but I never get anything to speak of on mine.

Fruit trees are often a snare and delusion, since fruit as good as one finds in chain groceries is not easy to produce. A strong American myth is that the fruit you grow yourself is much better than that in stores. This is not true, in my experience, except possibly in the case of peaches, and even store-bought peaches are not as bad as formerly; and in any case better than the peaches you are going to get in your garden unless you follow a standard spray schedule.

sk,3 I should point out, however, that few things are lovelier than certain fruit trees in bloom. I once grew a peach called 'Dawne,' which never had fruit worth eating, but which had very beautiful flowers. The one I grow now, called 'Jubilee,' is one of several peach varieties that have almost ugly blooms.

But pears are to my mind wonderfully beautiful in flower, which is just as well, since I do not really expect to grow a truly edible pear before I die. I have 'Doyenne du Comice,' which is not suited to our climate, and 'Tyson' which is a very early pear somewhat like 'Seckel,' and from which I do hope eventually to get something to eat.

sk,2 'Comice' is a great dessert pear, and I grow it on the theory that maybe some year it will have a couple of pears that can be picked and ripened indoors. But this is a fantasy, no doubt. In any case, both pears have been in place three years and should soon begin to bloom. Pears are a bit slow. But dwarf pears really are dwarf, while I see no great difference between dwarf plums and peaches and regular-sized trees. My dwarf plum would be over 20 feet high, but I keep sawing it back; which inspires a lot of vigorous growth, so I accomplish nothing much in the long run.

I have never known why casual city gardeners expect first-class fruit simply by digging a hole and planting a young tree, when in fact there is a great deal of labor involved, in the way of fighting insect and fungoid pests.