Green thumbs are not a requirement for living at Post Corners Apartments, but they would certainly come in handy: The Centreville complex offers 16 free garden plots. When a plot becomes vacant, the management organizes a lottery to pick the next gardener.

The 4-by-6-foot plots are a highlight at Post Corners, but the 336-unit garden-style complex, surrounded by lush landscaping, also offers residents other attractive features: a gated entrance, a washer and dryer in each unit, 9- or 10-foot ceilings, walk-in closets, and optional gas fireplaces. Apartments have either a patio, a balcony or a sunroom.

A variety of plant life--from sunflowers and tomatoes to corn and zucchini--blooms in the gardens. And the results this summer look barely touched by the drought that has shriveled plants throughout the Washington area.

Bob Graves wasn't lucky enough to win the Virginia lottery, he said, but he got a garden plot at Post Corners. Graves and his wife of 44 years, Betty, mostly grow tomatoes, but the Graves's garden once had spinach, lettuce, beets and onions. Post Corners "is a setting that closely resembles a country club," he said.

The Graveses, longtime Northern Virginia residents, with some reluctance left the 12-room house in Arlington where they raised their five children, fearing that they would face problems with maintenance and loud neighbors at a rental community. Luckily, they were wrong. "I've been totally astounded by how pleasant it has been," he said. "This place is unique."

Post Corners' beautiful landscaping first attracted Frida Hamp, who lists gardening among her hobbies, a little more than a year ago. She then visited the community in February and was hooked. "It was gorgeous even in the winter, with so much green," she said.

Without much spare time to keep up her own plot, Hamp satisfied her love for plants "subletting" a corner of her next-door neighbor's garden to grow enormous sunflowers--the plot was chosen as July's "Garden of the Month.' Post Corners, she said, is a place where it is possible to live right outside Washington "and still breathe fresh air and have beautiful gardens to walk through."

To make this experience more enjoyable, the management attaches name tags to some plants, and professional landscapers are available from time to time to advise residents.

The individual plots are surrounded by apple trees, grape vines, blueberries, thyme, rosemary and other plants, and residents--gardeners or not--are expected to help themselves to what they want. And tenants who don't grow a vegetable garden can still join in the community spirit and exercise their green thumbs by decorating their balconies: After all, the "Balcony of the Month" contest features a $50 prize.

Jennifer Massaglia, who moved to Post Corners about two months ago, said she would sign up for a plot if she had more time to garden. She said she liked her apartment from the moment she saw it: "I just liked how clean it was and how it looked very new." The 26-building complex was built in 1995.

Massaglia moved from Maryland because of her job. A flight attendant based at Dulles International Airport, Massaglia finds that living in Centreville gives her a nice 10-minute commute to work. And, compared with other complexes she visited while apartment-hunting, Post Corners was closer to grocery and retail stores. It also is convenient to Fair Oaks Mall.

If the beautiful landscape, gardens and location are a huge plus for most residents, many prospective tenants were attracted to Post Corners by the units' layouts, leasing consultant Angela Ballestracci said. "They are more impressed with what they see inside the apartments," she said.

The complex offers eight different floor plans, and there is a waiting list for some of them. The turnover is low: Residents leave the community either because they buy a house or change job locations, Ballestracci said.

Post Corners is managed by Post Properties Inc., a real estate investment trust based in Atlanta that manages more than 33,800 units in the Southeast and the Southwest. In Northern Virginia, the company also manages a 364-unit apartment complex in Fairfax. Seven people work on staff at Post Corners.

Ballestracci and other employees recently were invited to a party organized by residents, an idea that started at the Post Corners pool-opening party and, according to organizers, is intended to be a monthly happening. The potluck and games night attracted a mix of about 20 longtime and new residents to the complex's clubhouse.

The sociable atmosphere at Post Corners is one of the complex's nicest features for Shirley Miles, who moved there in March. "Everybody here seems to be very friendly," she said--and staff members are part of that ambience. "The people who keep the place up are so anxious to please and to make sure the resident is happy."

At Post Corners, Miles keeps a vegetable garden and also pursues another passion, exercise, using the 24-hour fitness room and the swimming pool to keep in shape. With nice neighbors and a place for gardening and exercise, she said, "what else could you ask for?"

POST CORNERS APARTMENTS

5804 Post Corners Trail

Centreville, Va. 20120

1-888-239-6765

* Application fee: $35; $30 each additional applicant

* Security deposit: $225 to $425; $100 to $300 refundable

* Lease term: Six months to a year

* Utilities: Not included

* Amenities: Swimming pool; fitness room; clubhouse; vegetable garden; business center; playground; tennis courts; picnic area; car wash; storage units; guest apartments

* Parking: Free outdoor lot; $115 a month for garage parking

* Pet policy: Pets 20 pounds or less, and one year or older; $500 pet deposit, $200 refundable

APARTMENT SIZE QUANTITY SQUARE FEET MONTHLY RENTAL

1 BR/1 BA 144 600 to 880 $825 to $925

2BR/1BA 28 1,000 1,035

2 BR/2BA 142 1180 to 1,280 1,115 to 1,230

3 BR/2 BA 22 1,360 1,400