There was a story in yesterday's paper about teen-agers using the possibility of nuclear war as an excuse for engaging in sex. I understand their thinking completely. Last Sunday afternoon, I was thinking the same thing. Although to be accurate, it should be noted that while I was using nuclear war as an excuse for irresponsibility, the immediate subject was not sex. It was the garden.

This is the time of year when everyone starts rhapsodizing about spring and the start of new life and the blooming flowers and so forth. It is clear all those people live in apartments or else they are independently wealthy and have full-time gardeners. For the rest of us, last weekend dawned warm and sunny, which meant that there were no more excuses for avoiding spring weeding.

By noontime on Sunday I was standing in the front lawn giving serious consideration to plowing up the bed along the front sidewalk and letting it return to its natural state, namely sod. This would have been easily accomplished, merely by taking out the azaleas and letting the grass finish its march across the flower bed to the concrete sidewalk.

In past years, the spring weeding crisis has been vastly more manageable. The first year we lived in the house, there were only azaleas planted in that flower bed. When spring came about, I made a deal with my oldest son. In return for weeding the bed, which at that time consisted mainly of pulling the grass out from between the azaleas, he would receive a modest monetary reward.

But that summer, my gardening ambitions got out of hand. I invested in chrysanthemums and coral bells and planted a few of them between the azaleas. The following summer, the border became even more ornate. A ground cover went in. Then another ground cover. Then some hostas. And then some perennials whose name I can't remember, but which took over the bed to such a point that they all had to be removed last fall and transplanted to the back yard. My son the transplanter did such a good job of transplanting, however, that this perennial has come up in ever-increasing numbers this spring, or else there's a weed in that bed that looks exactly like it.

The result of all this was not some splendid garden that was the envy of the neighborhood. The result was one enormously overcrowded section of landscaping where weeds and grass flourished among perennials. The further result was that the only person in the household capable of weeding the bed--that is, the only person who had any chance of successfully distinguishing between weeds and the various flowers and ground covers in there--was me.

The issue was joined last Sunday. Hope, in this case, did not spring eternal. Guilt, however, did. My husband had mowed the front lawn, plowed up the vegetable garden, cut the crab apple tree felled in the recent storm, and was mowing the back lawn. My beloved flower bed stood out like an eyesore.

After the first hour of being down on hands and knees, I was back to giving serious consideration to scrubbing the entire bed and letting the grass take over. It had a pretty good start, already. By early afternoon, as I was digging out yet another dandelion, I was getting philosophical: If the world is going to get blown up, why am I doing this? Here I am, on hands and knees on the hard sidewalk, trying to create a square foot of beauty, and for what? The Doomsday clock is set at four minutes to twelve and I am separating blades of grass from ground cover?

Some years ago, to the everlasting amusement of my husband, Chris Schenkel got so carried away during a football broadcast that he asked the world, "What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?" Watching football games might be his idea of living life to the fullest, but digging out dandelions wasn't mine. I stood up, sorely tempted to the ultimate suburban nihilism.

But I persevered, folding myself into dozens of positions I had not been into since last summer, and by the end of the day I surveyed the bed and was feeling rather superior about the whole thing. Almost all the azaleas could be seen, and there existed a distinct line between the lawn and the flower bed.

For one more spring, I had once again fulfilled my responsibilities as a suburban gardener and reaffirmed my faith in the future of mankind. Just in case things do work out, the flower bed won't be irretrievably lost.