You notice Marilyn Quayle now has a staff of eight to help with the heavy duties of a vice president's wife. The latest two additions are people to assist in her new responsibilities with the advisory committee to the Agency for International Development on relief efforts in international disasters.

Never mind that the Quayles themselves are thought by many to qualify as international disasters. Presumably it is a Good Thing to plan the best ways to help if France blows up or something of the sort occurs in our small world.

Like all abuses, there are good and even noble reasons why projects begin.

As a gardener I often see things in terms of weeds and roses, and often I reflect on the great Victorian garden establishments here and in England.

Once great wealth accumulated in a family and once glass and labor both became cheap, there was no reason gardening operations could not go full steam ahead.

There were vast vegetable and fruit gardens. Greenhouses abounded. There were stove houses, temperate houses and cold houses. There were many designs, as you would not attempt to grow grapes and pineapples in the same house. Each had a house devoted to it, and each was designed differently.

Vegetable gardens were enclosed with high brick or stone walls, against which you could train fruit trees, especially peaches, in various espalier patterns achieved by careful and frequent pruning.

Needless to say, the family in the big house for whom all this was grown was not the only family to eat. The men who trained the peach trees, the men who tied the grapes to frames below the sloping glass, the men who grew potatoes and beans, to say nothing of roses and the elaborate schemes in which tender plants were raised under glass and set out in patterns outdoors for the summer -- all these had wives and childrens and perhaps servants of their own, and everybody ate.

The more stuff you grew the larger your labor force. If the family ate a couple of bushels of potatoes per winter, vast additional bushels were needed to feed all the laborers. You had to have labor to harvest the potatoes for the laborers.

To say this system of gardening was top-heavy is no hyperbole. The possibilities of abuse -- in money spent on repairing glass, purchasing tools and machinery, acquiring plants, seeds and bulbs, and even controlling the outflow of the harvested produce -- in some cases led to abuse.

As an eminent garden commentator of the time observed, there was no telling how much money went down the drain in these elaborate operations and no telling in what unholy byways things wound up.

In our government you start off with a notion you need a vice president to take over in case the president goes mad or falls off the roof. Really, you should try to find something for him to do, so you make him president of the Senate. Heh-heh. That ought to keep him trimmed down to size.

Wait. What if the vice president, who has nothing to do except go to funerals and gaze at senators, has a wife who also has nothing to do? Well, you can convene a gang of public relations people to dream up something for her, as in "Just Say No," and proclaim her a deadly foe of cocaine when she is not negotiating for dresses.

Marilyn Quayle has not found a good slogan yet, nothing like "Just Say No," and it's possible (one thing in her favor) she is not even on speaking terms with high-fashion dressmakers.

So you give her a quasi-official position with an advisory committee to AID where it's thought she can get money from corporations for disaster relief.

The whole pattern of America works on this principle, by which you wind up with eight people on the staff of the vice president's wife. Not that Mrs. Quayle is a greedy ogre, she's just part of the general flow.

You take aspirin or any other product. You start out making a pill to relieve headaches, and it dawns on you that millions of people probably have headaches at some time or another and you see it doesn't cost much to make your pills. So you gear up and through the blessing of advertising you peddle them to billions, and along the way you support whole ad agencies and television corporations and photographers and writers and producers and office staffs. Soon you have an empire, a truly large deal.

It's like letting a dog have fleas so he'll have something to scratch. In no time the fleas have their own fleas, and those parasites have additional parasites and so on forever. It's nature's way, and certainly America's.

I have a buddy in Tennessee who has a farm and among other things raises vegetables for him and his wife to eat. This year he had 300 plants of sweet potatoes set out. Three hundred?

Well, yes. He has this good man who works on the farm, and my friend likes to let him grow pretty much what strikes him. He told my friend to order 300 sweet potato plants so my friend did. They will produce, in a normal Tennessee summer, roughly a trillion individual sweet potatoes by Thanksgiving, and great fun it is to dig them up and dry them.

It's no big deal, no federal case. Yes, it's more sweet potatoes than a couple needs, but come on, old Sam Ivory is a good worker and if he has this wild enthusiasm for growing sweet potatoes, well, let's keep him happy.

Same thing with Dan and Marilyn. Same thing, I guess, with the rest of us.

Which is all very well until some sleeper wakes and notices (as the great poet once did) that the hungry sheep look up and are not fed.