When our son collected trash and garbage for the city he had a habit of bringing home house plants this time of year, and the living room and a few other places now resemble Surinam as a result.

It seems that this time of year everybody throws out house plants that have summered outdoors, probably because they are too lazy to bring them indoors for the winter, or maybe because they have some absurd desire to walk about freely inside the house.

The first and critical orphan was a gold-variegated agave of good (but reasonable) size. In several years it has become somewhat gargantuan and has two babies each the size of a bushel basket. These have also pupped and a number of them live in 6-inch pots.

There are also two smallish palms, a starved 8-foot dracaena (if it were not starved, it would not fit under the ceiling) as well as six banana plants, one of them 14 feet high (before being whacked back for the winter), a fiddle-leaf fig, a 4-foot hibiscus that has decided to come into full bloom just as the year is dying and the light is fading, and a considerable number of oddments like a twisted aloe, some fairly snaky woody philodendron-type beasts and what seem to me a vast number of cymbidiums that are always kept too cold to bloom.

There is also a red-leaf rubber tree that keeps getting sawed back to fit under the ceiling, and once we get the dining room rug down -- the rugs came back from the cleaners recently -- it will sit in a large Chinese jar in the dining room. But of course you can't get the 40-ton rug down until everything is out of the room, so the rubber plant is using up an entire east window in the living room. The hearth is solid with plants, as well as various tables and any free floor space.

We like to think these plants are giving off wholesome oxygen, though we keep our house so cold, in an effort to foil the oil company, that I suspect much of what we call oxygen is simply coldness.

In a fit of folly I actually bought a hoya or wax plant at the All Saints fall bazaar three years ago and of course it has grown mightily though it has not bloomed. About the time everybody else's hoya blooms, mine spurts into lavish new growth and has no time for sex, and the same is true of a stephanotis which my wife recklessly ordered by mail several years ago. These live in a bedroom where they nicely obscure sunlight in the morning.

My wife's bathroom has shelves in the window, occupied by small plants of one kind and another (she also bought several bletillas on her own) that I have nothing to do with. My bathroom does not have plants in the window, but does have a couple of rubber garbage cans full of water in which I overwinter certain tropical water lilies. There are more water lilies than garbage cans so every year it is painful to decide which ones will live in water until May and which ones will have to be dried off and their tubers stored in dampish sand in a cake tin which sits atop a bedroom bookcase (where half of them rot).

It is not clear at all how the house got all these plants in it, though I blame the first big agave as the essential break in the dyke. Then there was that beautiful cycad I fished out of the trash compactor of a downtown hotel and nursed back to life. I can't recall where the rubber tree came from. Once you start having plants in the house they just accumulate, without your doing anything at all. Occasionally one will die -- one great year all the spathyphyllums did -- and make a little room, but others seem to float in on the air.

All of which would be understandable except that I have always disliked house plants.

I would hate to see any of them go, however. They are like a rabbit that you wished you didn't have (we had a vicious one for years and years) but that you get used to feeding and watering every day forever and ever and therefore miss when it dies at double the usual age of rabbits. And these plants are much like the Vietnam War -- once you have invested enough labor and woe, you are strangely unwilling to acknowledge it was a stupid mistake to begin with. You just go on and on. Still it surprises me that I am as incompetent in harboring these plants as the government was in managing that war. And at least the government (with a little help from many of us) finally proclaimed triumph and called it quits.

But I see no tunnel, let alone light at the end of it, for the plants of my house. So there probably was no harm done when we bought 15 narcissus bulbs to force. At the moment they are in relative darkness beneath a sideboard, but soon they will have to come out and sit on some table or other. Perhaps we can start eating standing up balancing plates. That way the dining table itself could start doing its share of protecting the tropical flora of three continent