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Dupont Circle’s “Phantom Planter”

April 3, 2014
Daffodils, Dupont Circle Metro, (c) MMD 2014

Daffodils, Dupont Circle Metro, (c) MMD 2014

You can’t keep a good bulb down. That’s become obvious this spring, when the once-neglected flower boxes along the long embankment next to the Dupont Circle Metro stop’s escalators bloomed with bright yellow daffodils. The flowers were the work of DC resident Henry Docter, the self-described “Phantom Planter,” who has planted flowers in public spaces around the world for decades (most of the time without permission). In 2012, he turned his sights on his hometown and planted daffodil bulbs in the then-empty flower boxes — spaces that were obviously once meant to house vegetation (and indeed I remember when they did contain some ground cover, which ultimately was neglected and died). Last spring he snuck down the embankment on a regular basis to tend to his flowers and plant morning glories and other flowers as well, but then he ran into trouble with Metro.

Long story short, Metro said that what he was doing was illegal (technically true, as he was trespassing) and formally warned him that if he continued with his actions he would be arrested. Not surprisingly, many in the community  publicly supported Docter — after all, who wouldn’t rather have flowers than no flowers? A petition was started, people spoke out against Metro, and Docter got a lot of press. Metro maintained that they were forcing him to stop watering the plants because of safety concerns — both for Docter and the public — but when Docter offered to continue to water the plants from the relative safety of the sidewalk above the station, Metro turned his offer down. In fact, they turned down all offers of help and support by sending in maintenance crews to rip out all of his flowers, even after telling community leaders that they would meet with them to come up with a solution that would satisfy everyone.

But this spring it became obvious that Metro employees did not dig down far enough to pull out the daffodil bulbs, because here they are! Docter’s actions might be controversial, but there’s no denying that they add a welcome touch of nature to the Metro system and the neighborhood.

Docter is by no means the only guerrilla gardener out there (there’s even a Washington, DC community group). What do you think about the “Phantom Planter” and others who garden in public spaces?

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