Choosing Christmas presents for gardeners is a challenge -- even if the only gardener you know is yourself. There are many presents that can't be brought, at any price, only freely given; and many little things that gardeners often wish for, but never get around to buying. And then there are the luxury items that seem too frivolous to even consider.

One year friends gave me a gift in this last category; a French salad spinner, a large plastic tub with a basket inside. You give the greens a tub bath, put them into the basket, put the lid on and spin them dry. It's something I never dreamed of owning -- after all, a $15 salad spinner is not exactly a necessity. I'd lived my life without one. And in fact, when I opened that gift it was all I could do not to laugh.

But since then, I've grown to love this tool.

It's made salads so easy. And, if the garden lettuce is covered with splashed-on mud, it's clean and dry in a flash. I use it almost daily, and it's made washing greens a pleasure -- a pleasure I might not have learned to enjoy as much without this gift.

Another item, introduced to me by another friend, is a plastic hose that fits onto the kitchen sink. Hers is about 50' long, and will water in a stream or spray. She brought it at a garden store, and says it has revolutionized her life with houseplants. I've put one on my Christmas list -- and I'm going to buy it as a gift for myself. After all, all the money I save growing vegetables entitles me to little things like this.

If you can't find one, or think it would be inconvenient in your home, consider a Polyspray. This is a super plastic spray bottle that, with a few strokes, compresses air so the trigger sends out a jetstream of mist. It's durable and simply designed, and available in garden stores for about $15.

A selection of starting trays, for planting seeds inside, makes a nice and less expensive gift. It will save your gardening friend the trouble of using every free pan in the house at indoor planting time.

For a more expensive gift, a grow-light setup will always be appreciated. Seedlings will grow straight and tall, because they don't have to stretch for light, and it can be used to give house plants healthful light baths, too. With careful shopping, you can find a broad-spectrum setup for less than $25. If you want a fancy one, with lots of lights and shelves, be prepared to pay a lot more.

More easily affordable are kneepads, available from Parks Seeds (Greenwood, S.C. 29647) for $3.75 a pair. They can be strapped on under or over pants to cushion the gardener's knees.

Good hand tools make good presents. A fine trowel, like the Wilkinson Sword stainless steel ones, costs less than $10, and will last for years without bending or breaking. Go for the top of the line in hand tools.

A flowering bulb kit will come in useful in figuring out what the garden needs. A garden apron, of dark-colored, stain-resistant material, equipped with large pockets, will help your gardener keep organized. Fill the pockets with row markers, indelible pens, covered wire for shoring up drooping plants, and a pair of garden gloves.

A gift certificate for seeds will be welcome, and might let a person branch out and try new varieties. Or, if you're lucky enough to have farmers nearby, you might be able to work out a certificate for a load of mulch or manure delivered in springtime.

If you have more time than money, give that. That's right, give a gift of yourself. Make up a certificate, worth a certain number of hours of garden labor, legal tender at any time that gardener needs the help.

Good help is hard to find. I know that if I got a gift certificate for help when I need it, I'd be thrilled. It's the kind of present that's like a garden itself. It can't be measured in money, but that's because it's priceless. It's truly something money can't buy -- and, very often, those things make the greatest gifts of all.