For many years I would not have wanted it generally known that I never had the slightest success or slightest flower from either larkspurs or cornflowers from seed.

I never understood that, as other hardy annuals such as California poppies always came up thick as mustard, and while I pretended the birds must have eaten the seeds I knew in my heart they didn't.

In my former garden in Tennessee we had plenty of cornflowers and larkspurs that seeded about year after year so you never had to buy new seed and plant it, but up here I never could get them going. As recently as the year before last I planted cornflowers again and surprisingly got a whole row of plants up to about eight inches high and thought all was well. Not one of those plants ever flowered; they all mildewed and died, though I never saw mildew on cornflowers anywhere else in my life.

A person in the house said the trouble was I planted everything too close and the bachelor's buttons, for example, were so close to the daylilies that they were simply smothered as the daylily leaves began to lengthen in May.

I mention this for whatever comfort it may give the innocent. Sometimes things simply do not do well. The nadir was 25 years ago with nut grass (Cyperus), which is the ultimate vicious weed. I have found its little tubers 30 inches deep. Compared with it, bishopsweed, plantain, chickweed, ground elder, Johnson grass etc. are mild intruders.

Anyway, the nut grass has beautiful polished sedge leaves and the nuts or tubers are larger than hazelnuts. It is said they eat them in India. One year I had a nice pile of them, rooted out at vast sweat from the rose bed, and planted a lot of them in an ornamental urn. They would be green and handsome and not need fussing with. Every one of them died, and I used to say after that that the best way to kill nut grass was to dig it up, grow it in an urn.

There are whole books devoted to raising things from seed, and I know my trouble has been the usual trouble experienced by gardeners -- planting them too deep.

After roughly a century it dawned on me that sterilizing soil is worth the bother, and if one is too lazy to boil or bake the soil, one can use potting soil, which is not sterile but which works better than plain garden soil when seeds are sown.

There are so many hazards outdoors, what with birds and beasts and weather, that it is foolish, really, not to start them in flats indoors and then plant them out when they are relatively small plants. Naturally, the garden soil into which the young plants are set should be weed-free.

Many gardeners sow hardy annuals outdoors in fall and winter but that has not worked well for me very often, though one year I had spectacular success (for me) with sweet pea seeds planted in November. In Washington and north of here there is too often ice that melts and re-freezes through the winter, and hardly any young sprouted seedling will take that. Sometimes pansies will, though it is safer to plant youngsters with five leaves (not larger) late in October and give them the slightest of coverings -- dustings, really -- of straw. Then they bloom like mad with the daffodils in March, while if plants are set out in the spring they only bloom with the irises in May.

Consistency, in the plant world as in the human, is a virtue. This past summer my wax plant (Hoya carnosa) bloomed beautifully for the first time in years, after spending the previous winter in an east window of a bedroom kept always on the cool side. Before that, in the years it grew well but never bloomed, it wintered by an east window in a room that was sometimes warm and humid, sometimes chilly and dry.

The stephanotis from Madagascar also refuses to flower, so this winter I am trying it in the cool steady room to see if that helps.

You may think the big greenhouse amaryllis is vulgar with its enormous four flowers on a stalk, and admittedly it bears little resemblance to a lily of the valley or Johnny-jump-up or other delicate creature. Still, hardly anything is as cheerfully gorgeous as one of the modern amaryllis in full bloom in January in the living room. I have seven new bulbs and have already started three of them, planting at two-week intervals. That is supposed to ensure a steady production of flowers through the winter. My guess is they will all bloom more or less together, but it costs nothing to follow directions for a change and we shall see.

If you stagger your potting dates for these bulbs, keep the unplanted bulbs cool and dry. Not every house has a room that stays at 50 degrees all winter but I do, and it is perfect for keeping the dormant amaryllis happy until potting time.