Grow fresh herbs in the kitchen.
Chives. Allium schoenoprasum has a delicate onion favor. Chinese chives (A. tuberosum) have a mild garlic taste. Don't harvest the whole clump at once; cut small bunches of leaves back to the soil level to keep new ones coming.
Mint. Peppermint and spearmint, in particular, grow well in pots.
Oregano. Try pungent Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum), peppery Cretan oregano (O. onites; also called pot marjoram), or Italian oregano (O. majoricum), which blends the flavors of oregano and sweet marjoram.
Rosemary. Grow a compact upright variety like 'Taylor's Blue' (trailing types aren't particularly flavorful).
Sage. Try 'Berggarten' or dwarf sage (Salvia officinalis minimus). Harvest plants regularly to keep them productive.
Sweet bay. Laurus nobilis, the source of aromatic bay leaves, can be trained into a topiary.
Thyme. 'English Thyme' and 'Narrow Leaf French' are standard culinary varieties. For distinctive flavors, try caraway thyme (Thymus herba-barona) or lemon thyme (T. citriodorous).
Many nurseries and some supermarkets sell herbs in 3-inch plastic pots. When you bring the herbs home, set the pots near a window and let plants acclimate to their surroundings for a few weeks. Then transplant them into individual 6-inch or larger pots filled with a fast-draining potting mix. During the darkest winter months, you may need to supplement sunlight with fluorescent light. Potted herbs are doomed to a quick death if overwatered: Allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings. Hold back on fertilizer during winter, then feed with liquid fertilizer once or twice monthly starting in spring. If aphids or whiteflies infest plants, control by spraying insecticidal soap.
If you can't find the herbs you want locally, try these mail-order sources, which ship potted plants: Goodwin Creek Gardens (Box 83, Williams, OR 97544; 541/846-7357; catalog $1); Mountain Valley Growers (38325 Pepperweed Rd., Squaw Valley, CA 93675; 559/338-2775 or www. mountainvalleygrowers. com); Thyme Garden (20546 Alsea Hwy., Alsea, OR 97324; 541/487-8671).
Sharpen those edges.
* Just as knives grow dull with use, so do the edges of your hoes, shovels, and other garden tools. The Quicksharp Single Edge Tool Sharpener works on any tool that has one sharp beveled edge, such as lawn mower blades and pruning shears (the latter must open wide enough for the tool's sharpening edge to fit over the shear blade). The tool sharpener is available at many home improvement stores (call 800/6217433 for a source near you). Cost is about $7.
- Lauren Bonar Swezey