Agaves and aloes from the deserts and bananas from rain-forest country areall easy to keep over winter in the house if they are given almost no water. And while some plants would promptly die under this regimen, a surprising number will thrive (or at least survive) almost bone dry from November till April.

The agaves live in 12-inch pots throughout the year. They are a pain to carry in and out, in April and November, and they get bigger every year. They all started with an agave somebody threw out one fall -- of course this was retrieved, and since then it has pupped, and now I cannot say which is the original and which are the offspring.

Anyway, each pot gets about a cup of water once every six weeks. Our house is colder than most, and stays in the 50s most of the day. This suits the agaves, aloes, barrel cactus, several palms, monsteras, fiddle leaf fig and rubber tree quite well.

The poor fiddle leaf fig is almost exhausted by spring, but revives in our happy warm wet spring and summer.

A dracaena came to us in 1970 in a four-inch pot. It graduated to larger things but for the past 10 years has lived in a 10-inch pot. It is about six feet high, with four stems, and has not grown to speak of for years. That is because I do not give it a larger pot. The soil in the pot is unchanged for at least 10 years. In the house it gets a cup of water once a month, or whenever its leaves start looking unhappy.

The schefflera is equally starved, but equally green, and has shown displeasure by producing quite small leaves. It suits me fine that way.

The sago palm or cycad (Cycas revoluta) is much at home in the Carolina low country and thrives with endless floods of water through the summer, but it does quite well in the house in dim light and almost dust-dry soil through the winter. When it goes out in April you can almost see it revving itself up for a great burst of new growth after its months of enforced drought.

I think of all these creatures as so many green bears, abiding quietly in their cave until the stronger light of February wakens them. The bananas are the first to revive, sending out tentative pale leaves in January (if you weaken and give them a cup of water), and you soon learn to give them just enough to keep the leaves from dying but not enough to encourage them into full growth. Once they fruit, the main stem dies, but there are two or three young plants growing at the base.

One of the most difficult things to do is nurse along young rosebushes in the house. In general it is best to plant the rose outside, despite the hazards of winter. A friend budded the rare Rosa moschata for me and gave it to me in the fall. Unfortunately the bud was plump, and I was sure it would sprout during the mild weather before Christmas and then be wrenched loose by the gales of winter. So I have it in the house. The bud has sprouted, and I cut the top off the stock into which it was set. (None of this need concern gardeners who get their roses the usual way, as two-year-old field- grown plants. With them, the work has all been tended to long before they are sold, and all you do is plant them outdoors in November- December or February-March.)

The hazard, in the house, is insufficient light. I keep the new musk rose under a lamp at night, hoping to pull it through till spring. This rose is notable for its scent, but the flowers are smallish and fairly shapeless, white, and they have a bad habit of turning brown when they fade and (in wet weather) just hanging on the bush.

It is a different plant from the huge climber commonly sold as the musk rose. The one I refer to as the true musk is supposed to have come from the border of France and Spain, and may (or may not) be the musk rose of Shakespeare, Spenser and Bacon. It starts blooming the end of July in England and continues till cold weather. Its chief claim to glory is that it is supposed to be the rose from which the noisettes were bred, and through them its genes may well be in many modern roses.

You notice I say "supposed to be" a good bit. Roses are easily grown from seed and easily pollinated by other roses. Over the centuries, without clear records, the best an honest scholar (let alone an amateur like me) can do is make an informed guess.