PLAN FOR THE PAN. Today you can plant your plot to suit your palate
IF you like to cook the spicy foods of the Cajun country, or if your family will take a Chinese stir-fry dish any day of the week, you might consider planting a whole garden of the special foods that go into these kinds of culinary projects. One of the current trends in gardening is to plant an all-Italian garden or a plot of all-French or all-Chinese vegetables - one plot using only those seeds that fit your current cooking plans. Seed companies will go along with the plan.
A collection of Cajun seeds will include okra, of course, Cajun yellow squash, Creole tomatoes, Bayou scallions, and some of those hot, spicy Tabasco chili peppers that make this kind of food so intriguing.
A Chinese package will have separate envelopes for snow peas, long green Chinese beans, bok choy, and the chilies that give it the proper Oriental flavor.
Or choose an Italian gourmet kit of seeds, or a collection for Tex-Mex cooking, or a group of several new kinds of greens for salads, called mesclun.
There's one plan that tells you just what seeds will help you grow a garden full of salt substitutes.
In a book by Connecticut herb-grower Sal Gilbertie, ``Kitchen Herbs'' (Bantam Books, $24.95), his Salt-substitute Garden Plan recommends a blend of herbs with savory as the mainstay.
Or you can grow a fish garden.
That means it can be shaped like a fish if you like - although the main idea is to grow those herbs that go well in fish dishes such as dill, sage, bay, parsley, lemon grass, tarragon, and many more.
So starting a garden today can be a project full of dazzling decisions. There are so many colorful, attractive plants pictured in the seed catalogs and on the packages that it's hard to know where to start without an assist.
If the idea of planting a gourmet garden appeals, you can combine seeds yourself or buy them mixed from several seed companies. Some of the experts have made it easy.
The big American seed companies like Burpee, Park's, and others now include a few seeds from foreign companies. But a dozen or so companies are now making a specialty of seeds from abroad. Some follow the current gourmet cooking trends very closely.
Two or three companies in particular package several kinds of gourmet seeds under specific labels such as Italian gourmet or French or Chinese groups of seeds. They aim to produce ingredients the great chefs and creative cooks are using.
Le March'e Seeds International (PO Box 566, 200 North First St., Dixon, CA 95620; tel.:  678-9244) is a California company that was started five years ago by two enterprising women, Charlotte Glenn and Georgeanne Brennan.
They've collected outstanding gourmet vegetable seeds from Europe and Asia and put these special collections together for people who like to cook French or Italian dishes, and appreciate the pleasure of using only fresh ingredients.
``Our European Vegetable Collections have nine different varieties each, and they're individually packaged with full growing instructions,'' Charlotte Glenn says. ``Especially popular is our package containing nine kinds of salad greens such as arugula, romaine, radicchio, chervil, dandelion butterhead, and chicory.''
The varieties are hardy and easy to grow - even for inexperienced gardeners. Most of the vegetables can be grown in tubs in small spaces. All are suitable for small garden plots or can be mixed in with other ornamental plants.
Another plus for Le March'e is that its catalog is a delight for any cook to read, with notes telling where the seeds come from and how to cook the results.
Another special gourmet garden idea comes from Thompson & Morgan, a well-known British seed company now with an outlet in New Jersey. The company offers some 4,000 varieties of flowers and vegetables from 135 countries.
This year its International Gourmet Garden Collections of seeds come with special gourmet recipes developed by New York chef Burton Wolf. The T&M collections include the French Gourmet Garden, as well as Italian, Chinese, Cajun-Creole, and Tex-Mex gourmet garden seed packets.
And these have more than seeds. Along with the 10-seed packets in each collection, there are also 20 peat pots and a cookbook with 20 original recipes from Chef Wolf.
Le Jardin du Gourmet (the gourmet's garden) of West Danville, Vt. (05873), is one of my longtime favorites for seeds of vegetables not readily available in the supermarket.
A few years ago when it was hard to find fresh leeks at a decent price, I started growing my own leeks with seeds from Le Jardin. I still do.
They also have hard-to-find shallots and excellent squash and pumpkin seeds from Africa. I've had top results from their herb seeds and carrots from the Netherlands, radicchio from Italy, and petits pois (little peas), and haricots verts (green beans) from France.
Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.