If you read somewhere that a plant flowers in April you are supposed to know, I guess, that it depends on where you grow it and on the conditions of light, heat, water, etc., of the spot in which you grow it.

My auratum lilies, for example, bloom about July 4, not mid-August as some say. My poor old Lady Betty Balfour, a good dark-purple clematis that died after years of fighting virus, always was in bloom June 14 or 16, though many books recommend her for September.

The same is true of daffodils. Blooming time even for the same variety in the same garden can vary three or four weeks, depending on the sun and shelter of its particular site. Early daffodils planted against a south wall and late varieties planted on a north slope in light woodland may provide a blooming season of two months, but if all are planted together in a sunny bed in the open, that season may be five weeks. Or, with a few days in the nineties, they will all stew together and be done in a week.

At the moment I am watching some amaryllis bulbs at my house. Beginning Oct. 18 I planted the first of seven very fine bulbs, and planted the others on Nov. 10, Nov. 17, Nov. 24, Dec. 2, Dec. 11 and Dec. 16.

The first one flowered Dec. 19 and as it produced two flower stalks like all the others (from the largest bulbs obtainable), it should remain in bloom till today.

The second one flowered Jan. 1. By Jan. 8, all the bulbs were in flower except the one planted Dec. 16.

Thus, although in general the bulbs planted earlier flowered earlier, you will see they do not flower in direct proportion to the time of planting. Approaching mid-January, all but one of them will be in flower.

Last April 14 I planted a pot-grown tomato seedling labeled 'Ball's Extra Early' inside a double-layered plastic cylinder with water between the layers, in the open garden. The first tomato ripened more than 90 days later. It was the latest variety to ripen.

Tomatoes that are "supposed" to ripen 70 days after planting out may in fact ripen in 65 days or (more often) in 85 or 90 days.

It depends whether they are growing in a small town garden with some shade from walls and trees, or whether they are grown in a sunny field in the country. It also depends on how friable the soil is and how much water the plant gets. It also depends on whether the planting was early in the season (April 14 is very early for Washington) or late, like June 1. The more the gardener tries to hurry up his harvest, as by setting the plants out early, the greater the number of days it will take for ripe fruit to be produced.

A tomato that "should" produce its first fruit 80 days after being set out may require 100 days if planted April 14, and only 75 days if planted June 5.

As the spring progresses, warmer and warmer, the faster the tomato grows and fruits. In Washington many gardeners no longer plant early-variety tomatoes, having found they ripen no sooner than the main midseason varieties, which are better flavored.

The late Henry Allen of Bethesda, now sadly missed, was an authority on vegetables in the home garden. He found his early tomatoes ripened no more than three or four days before his main-season varieties and therefore were not worth growing.

About 100 local gardeners last year phoned or wrote comments about their earliest tomatoes. One variety stood out, 'Early Girl,' and it was almost the sole variety reported as ripening by July 4. Last summer tomatoes were later than usual, and most main-season standby varieties did not ripen until July 20 or 25, so 'Early Girl' was well worth growing. In other years it does not ripen early enough, in comparison with midseason kinds, to justify planting it.

One year, in another garden, I had had trouble with disease in tomatoes. That was in the days before varieties resistant to fusarium and so forth were available. I heard of a new kind called 'Copiah,' bred in Mississippi, that had smallish fruit not of terribly high quality, but the thing was you got tomatoes from it no matter what.

So sure enough I got plenty of fruit from 'Copiah,' like red golf balls. And that was the year that everybody else raised superb tomatoes of all varieties. Nobody had trouble with disease that year.

Gardeners love to mutter that you can't win. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Gardeners every year are rewarded far beyond reasonable expectations (not necessarily with tomatoes) and the trouble is that our expectations are not often reasonable.

My 10 tomato plants produced slightly more than 200 pounds of usable fruit last year, and since two of the plants did virtually nothing, it means eight plants produced the 200 pounds. I was rather boasting of that, in a modest way, when a neighbor said she got 50 pounds per plant from 'Celebrity.' Which I doubt. But then she is very good at things and has an open field heavily manured out in the country.

The point of all this is that "it depends" when you want to know how long a particular variety takes to ripen and how heavily it yields. Plenty of rich, deeply dug soil in full sun with plenty of water (and an absence of disease and insect pests) will give the best results with tomatoes and almost everything else. But there is no guarantee. Nature does not give a fried fandango what we expect, what we think we are entitled to for our efforts. And of course there is the occasional tornado, which can make any tomato moot.