Young Spirits Fly at Urban Garden

Colbert is a free-lance writer in Los Angeles

After a year of high hopes and planning, the children in Barnsdall Junior Art Center classes have planted a new hilltop Urban Garden in time for an Earth Day Festival dedication at noon Sunday.

But it is the children, not so much the plants, who are rising to the occasion since NASA space-exposed seeds planned for their "tomato testing" garden were bypassed due to possible toxicity of the resulting fruit.

The decision to exclude the tomato seeds from the Barnsdall garden came last week after Art Center officials read an unsigned memo from a NASA contractor warning that the shuttle-borne seeds, exposed to cosmic radiation, could produce toxic tomatoes. The seeds were distributed and planted nationwide by science students participating in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration experiment.

Helping the young gardeners at Barnsdall overcome their disappointment over the space seeds and rekindling the excitement of growing vegetables and flowers was teacher Richard Stretz, gallery education coordinator.

The children literally dug in to prepare their garden for the dedication. Tools were put aside as the placing of the tomato plants--ones that had not traveled into space--began.

Brigid Broome's straw garden hat and her "Ace" tomato plant seemed to imply professional transplant techniques. Soft taps to the bottom of Brigid's container dislodged her plant while her small hand stretched over the inverted top to keep the soil in place.

Her palms cradled the root ball as she lowered it into the hole. After gently covering it with earth, Brigid created a bowl-shaped reservoir of soil for prudent use of her irrigation water.

The excitement escalated as the planting procedure was repeated by the other 10 members of the class. Young cautions were bantered: "Don't back up into my hole" and "You're getting me wet ."

Irene Cruse chose to plant "Japanese Tomato." Terrence Allington, 5, chose the short-growing "Patio" tomato and Damien Langere, who announced he had moved beyond his gardening expertise into gymnastics, installed "Better Boy" and "Champion."

Stretz said the class is mainly made up of children who began the Saturday classes last summer and continued with them during the school year.

Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. The charge is $24 for the eight-week session, with scholarships available to those who qualify.

Barnsdall Junior Art Center, 4800 Hollywood Blvd . , in Barnsdall Park, one block west of Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles. Admission to the park and Earth Day Festival Sunday are free, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The Urban Garden dedication is scheduled for noon on the Junior Art Center steps. Parking is available on top of the hill, in the lower lot near the entrance and on the street. Information: (213) 485-4474.

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