WE and our house are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year. Speaking for ourself, it's been a good 20 years. We can't, of course, say how it's been for the house - and thank goodness the house can't speak for itself. ''Benign neglect!'' might be the most charitable words to come from those long-suffering clapboards. Still, we have made a match, and the house at least has charmed us.
Every house should have a novelty. Our house has a secret staircase. A section of the dining room's panelled wall swings out to give access. Novelties can hold up. The secret staircase still delights us.
The second thing every house should have is its dream-within-a-dream: a feature with a special, rather romantic, promise that makes the ardent new buyer say, ''Yes, I can certainly make something out of that.''
The dream-within that caught our fancy 20 years ago was the back garden. No, we did not buy the house for the back garden. We would have been quite foolish to do so. But at some point in the first year, when every new homeowner is making lists titled ''Projects,'' we began to fall into the classic litany: ''Hmm. I can see real possibilities there.''
The garden is the whole backyard; there is no more. As you go out a sliding glass door (from what is now known as Dog's Room), you come to the back garden at its widest - maybe 15 feet. We're not going to get too tape-measured about this. Even after 20 years, the numbers might come as a shock. The 15-foot (or so) width is narrowed by the curve of a stone wall, rising as high as seven feet to retain an eroded banking behind it.
Two parallel concrete curbs define the path, with garden beds on either side. If you can find any garden thing that will grow in them. We can't. The path gets all the sun. We have finally planted shrubs and developed the custom of treating flowering weeds as flowers we planted on purpose. Dandelions are revered.
There have been ''concepts'' for the back garden. The lover of Japanese gardens in the family saw a vision of all his cliches coming true. He put down marble chips in the path and thought he heard bamboo flutes playing.
There is a trellis that defines the end of the garden. A man can cover the distance in about 15 paces from that sliding glass door - and then pace back. What else? But maybe it's just as well. Only in Chekhov plays do people seem to find the time to lounge around in gardens, and what becomes of those people is hardly something to recommend a universal all-out garden policy.
The dog gets the best of the garden, and to her credit, she has not gone all ''Three Sisters'' gloomy about it. She is a small dog, and she waddles the path in tiny steps - then flops. We are convinced that she thinks of herself as a very large dog in a very large garden.
Who would have imagined such things 20 years ago? And yet, to our surprise, we still love our unblossomed garden. And on a day like this, when the birds are singing and the Korean lilac bush is perfuming the air and the sun is streaming down - very narrowly - on the path, we feel like celebrating our 20th anniversary. And maybe a little more.