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Only the space, budget are small

August 23, 2007|From Times staff reports

COLLEGE students are heading back to school, many bound for apartments where the only place to garden is a sunny patch on the balcony. No worries. Even the cash-strapped and the space-starved can build a pleasing container gardener, says Venice-based landscape designer Jay Griffith.

"You don't have to be rich," Griffith insists, even though his clients often are. "You just need to have energy and love to experiment."

Where to start? How about with the container itself. Shop-happy gardeners may be tempted by the latest pots and planters to land in stores, but Griffith suggests looking at the container the plant's already in. Some nurseries sell their stock in colorful plastic pots that give the plants plenty of room to grow. You'll not only save money, but also prevent one more piece of plastic from heading to a landfill. Bright plastic pots can be purchased for a buck or two.

Wholesale nurseries send trees and other large specimens to stores and large landscaping jobs in wooden boxes that sometimes are discarded. If you can't find any to salvage, new ones can be bought for about $10, then painted or stained to suit your eye.

As for the flowers themselves? Every plant in this photo (with Griffith, above) can be grown from seed, started with a cutting or propagated through division -- all inexpensive means of growing a garden.

Hundreds of plants -- irises, lilies, birds of paradise -- can be grown through division. The Sunset Western Garden Book has a primer on dividing perennials.

Griffith says starting new plants from cuttings is a lost art. Succulents are great cuttings plants; many have stems that detach easily and root readily. Plus they can endure neglect. (A story from The Times' archives on the proper way to make cuttings has been reposted on

"There are so many ways of creating a garden," Griffith says, adding that smart thinking, an inventive eye and a healthy dose of patience can yield a balcony of color more rewarding than anything off a store shelf.

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