The Washington Post

‘The Phantom Planter’ strikes again — with big-screen video

When part-time lawyer and artist Henry Docter planted flowers at the Dupont Circle Metro station, Washington's transit agency ripped them out. Now, Docter is back with a visual message. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)


The way Henry Docter sees it, his quest was a noble one foiled by bureaucratic intransigence.

“The Phantom Planter,” as Docter calls himself, has long aimed to beautify small pockets of the world. Toward that end, since 1979, he has spread flower seeds in barren public spaces on four continents, including at Metro’s Dupont Circle subway station. There, in 176 empty outdoor pots near the station’s north escalators, Docter planted seeds for hundreds of morning glories and others flowers — without permission from the transit authority.

As the flowers bloomed, he watered and he weeded.

Metro wouldn’t stand for it. Citing safety concerns (What if Docter fell and injured himself or others while tending to his Metro garden?), officials last June threatened him with “arrest, fines and imprisonment” if he tried to care for the flowers. A few weeks after the warning, maintenance workers removed the flowers.

Now Docter has struck back at Metro — using ridicule. With permission from the National Park Service, he said, he erected an 18-foot video screen in a park across the street from the north entrance to the Dupont Circle station and, Sunday night, played this video, a multicultural lament for his long-gone garden, which, right about now, might have been ready to bloom.



Paul Duggan covers the Metro system and transportation issues for The Washington Post.



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