Part of the fun of visiting Jules Vassalluzzo is knowing he's created beautiful gardens out of bargains.

He buys a lot of plants at Produce Junction, and he takes advantage of end-of-season sales and friends and family members willing to share or trade.

He also collects seeds.

"The price is right," he says.

Mainly, Vassalluzzo plants what he likes, where he likes. He doesn't favor a particular style, though he says he does a mental plan before he plants.

Somehow, it works. You'll admire and enjoy these gardens, but you won't feel intimidated. "Dr. V" will gladly identify every single plant. Heck, he might even give you one.

Clearly, he's having a ball.

Many of his "planters" began life as something else. He seems tickled by his visitors' surprise when they realize, say, that those pansies and Arabis (rockcress), wild columbine and strawberries are growing in old metal washtubs.

Or that the water pitcher's full of rosemary and the watering can with parsley. Even his father-in-law's wheelbarrow is a planter.

Vassalluzzo bought parts of a fountain at a Hechinger's going-out-of-business sale and turned them into a table. He paid $1 for a pile of slate that used to adorn a mantelpiece.

"Bargains come up. People move. There are sales all the time," he says.

His father-in-law's wine press decorates the back garden. So does a flea-market wagon wheel and a table loaded with shells - for the grandchildren to play with.

He collects rocks and bricks, with permission, from dumping areas and construction sites. "I never met a rock or a brick I didn't like," he says.

And let's hear it for friends. While visiting some in the Poconos, Vassalluzzo bagged up a heap of moss and brought it home to plant.

How about that 19th-century wrought-iron fencing he snagged at a flea market? Fantastic. And are those upright curtain rods on either side of the path?

But, of course!

"I try to make it interesting," he says.

- Virginia A. Smith