There are frosts and rumors of frost. It was ever so.

The thing I have got through my head as a gardener is that things are perfect in quite small and modest measures.

If you plant an avenue a mile long with willow oaks, say, you will notice after 30 years that there are gaps, and the symmetry is not perfect. It simply is not the custom of the living creature to develop and flourish in a precise or predictable way.

If you have a litter of hounds, one hound will differ from another in glory, even though they are closely related, sharing a great similarity of genes. But the slight differences turn out to be critical Further, accidents strike at random, hitting one pup and not another.

It is the same in the garden. You can plot on paper (and should) but the result will never be very much what you originally saw in your mind the day you planned it all.

One thing that makes good gardens good is the skill and grace with which the gardener has surrendered (or balked valiantly) in effective ways when confronted with the fact that plants have not done quite what was intended.

The view down my brick walk, to give a trifling (and painful, actually) example, is not what was intended. The three great columnar yews on one side have misbehaved considerably. The farthest one took against a nearby plum and refused to grow up straight and tight, but fanned out to the right. The other two began bushing out at the top where it is hard for me to get up and prune them back. The little touch of golden yellow that was supposed to be proved by an arborvitae has not done what was expected, since the arborvitae has flourished far beyond expectations and now overdoes the touch of gold.

The soft rounded mass of blue-gray-green that was to be provided by a six-foot globe of Ludlow's tree peony has failed, simply because this peony with me grows along nicely for two or three or even four years then dies flat, with no regard to my plans for it.

The massive weeping effect intended in front of the first columnar yew has failed because the Yucca recurvifolia pendula (to give the probably incorrect name under which I bought it years ago) has simply died. It was almost getting there, but then the heavy roots of the yew evidently did it in, along with a particularly vicious winter.

A perfectly hardy fan palm died in the winter. It had no right to do this. I have had it in the past come through a winter of 12 degrees below zero without blemish. All these irregularities have, needless to say, quite altered the view down the walk. On the other hand, a yellowish shrub rose, 'Agnes,' has done exactly what it should. I wanted it to bush out at a height of five or six feet, and that's what it did.

Apart from all that, there is the matter of actual flowering. This year, as you know, the daffodils were rather a mess. Many lasted only three days. And yet, at the tag-end of the daffodil season there were some lovely flowers, notably on the white 'Stainless' and the red-cup yellow 'Altruist,' which for some reason bloomed very late this year.

I remember one great iris garden elsewhere that was to be a highlight of the tour of a national iris society convention. Everybody knew irises were grown better in that garden than almost anywhere else, so anticipation was great. At that garden they used a lot of horse manure, and of course we all warned of the danger of that, but they never have any trouble. As it happened, on this great national tour, some extraordinary combination of het and dampness caused leaf spot unparalleled in extent and an outburst of early rot. People saw the irises and thought the gardeners there were lazy beyond belief. They would never believe that year in and year out -- except that year -- the irises of that garden were superior to almost all others. It just happened. (And as one who cautions great discretion in the use of horse manure, I was not able to say 'I told you so,' because that was the only time disaster struck that garden.)

There is no flower, I am sure, not even the dandelion, that will not sooner or later have a very poor season. When it happens, the gardener simply suffers a trifle and looks the other way. There is no year in which everything goes wrong, no season when everything goes well. Nature is not exactly manic-depressive, but almost. Up and down, triumph and despair.

Really, when you think of the forces we gardeners contend with in the garden, it's wonderful we are not much loonier than we are.