Some garden plants are so common and familiar that they tend to get overlooked, but every now and then I'm struck by the realisation that chives are far too valuable to be taken for granted.
They'll grow anywhere - in the soil in a garden or allotment, or in a pot on a patio, windowsill or balcony.
Rarely troubled by pests or diseases, simple to establish and needing almost no maintenance, these hardy, 12-inch-high perennials seem indifferent to weather, thriving year after year in rain or drought.
More importantly, chives are one of the herbs that people actually use - unlike those you carefully raise and then wonder what to do with.
Their mildly onion-flavoured foliage can be available for most of the year, for chopping into salads, soups and sandwiches or over eggs, potatoes and cheese on toast.
Even if you don't fancy eating them, they make a superb ornamental plant, cheap and reliable.
The simplest way to start with chives is to divide a friend's existing clump.
Division is a good idea anyway - every few years, to prevent overcrowding.
This can be done in spring or late summer, but I find autumn a convenient time, when there's less chance of drying out.
Lift the whole clump with a garden fork, tear it into lots each consisting of about 10 of the small bulbs, replant these bunches six inches apart, and water thoroughly.
Alternatively, sow a few seeds under cover in March in small pots and plant out as clumps in June or July, or else sow a pinch of seed directly into the ground in April or May.
Plants from seed should be harvested sparingly in the first year to let them establish, but divisions will be fully productive almost from the start.
Chives grow in almost any site and soil, but they do best in rich ground in a fairly sunny spot.
In spring they benefit from a monthly liquid feed, and when grown in containers they'll need regular watering.
Cut the leaves as needed to within an inch of the ground. Use they when they're fresh, as they don't really keep.
The globular summer flowers are also good to eat, taken just before they fully open.
Removing flowers prevents self-seeding and encourages leaf production.
The tubular foliage dies off after the first hard frosts, but returns in very early spring.
Cover the plants with cloches to extend the cropping season by a few weeks or lift a small clump in late summer and pot it up indoors for use through the winter.
There are several varieties of chives (Allium schoenoprasum) available, including fine-leaved and giant-leaved types.
Others have white or pink flowers, unlike the purple of the most common variety.
"Chinese chives" or "garlic chives" (Allium tuberosum) are grown and used just like chives, and taste of garlic, though botanically they're neither.
Their flat leaves can stand well over two feet tall and they produce delightful, and edible, white, star-shaped flowers well into autumn.
Currently harvesting: Carrots, bulb fennel, sea beet, radishes, turnips, grapes, mustard greens, runner beans, French beans, cabbage, amaranth, kohl rabi, celeriac, marrows, summer squash, nasturtiums, chard, mooli, beetroot, kale, raspberries.
In tubs: Potatoes, parsley, carrots, lettuce, mixed leaf salads, rocket, garlic chives.
In greenhouse: Tomatoes, peppers.
In store: Onions, potatoes, hazelnuts, garlic, apples, pears, elephant garlic.
Follow Mat's gardening tips on Twitter, @StarGardening.
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