Defying both a never-ending winter and the wishes of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, a crop of yellow daffodils gently swayed in the wind at the north exit of the Dupont Circle Metro station Monday afternoon. The blossoms are back.
But is the guerrilla gardener?
Henry Docter, who describes himself as the Phantom Planter, was the cause of a not-inconsiderable public outcry last summer after Metro threatened him with arrest if he tended to the flowers that he surreptitiously planted at the Dupont Circle station’s north exit.
Though WMATA backed down on the legal threats, the agency said it wouldn’t allow Docter to continue gardening, citing safety concerns. A few weeks later, Metro yanked the flowers, saying it would repair the paver blocks and plant “a low-maintenance ground cover.”
A discerning rider noticed the new blooms and alerted the local blog PoPville.com, which first reported on them Monday, to ask if the “rogue gardener” is back or if WMATA is responsible for the bit of brightness.
“We haven’t planted anything yet,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. “Our contractor finished rebuilding the planters this past winter … We are planning on replacing everything in the coming weeks with a low ground cover, as we’ve said consistently.”
Stessel speculated that they may have been bulbs that weren’t removed last year.
Reached by email Monday, Docter said: “Of course I planted them.” But he did so in 2012.
In fact, they were the inspiration for last year’s controversial plantings. “When [the daffodils] came up last spring, I was so pleased and excited that I returned with the thousand plus morning glories and cardinal flowers in May.”
Once the sun gets its act together and warms up, he said, more daffodils and tulips should come up this year since Metro didn’t manage to uproot all of his work — at least not quite yet.
Still, Phantom Planter fans shouldn’t despair; they can find his work around the city.
“There are quite a few other Phantom Flower Plantings coming up all over town,” wrote Docter, who said he thinks he has stealthily sown seedlings in three out of the city’s four quadrants. “But I’m trying real hard to keep my mouth shut so everyone can enjoy them.” It is more fun when people spontaneously discover them, he said.
Docter has also promised a second surprise as a follow-up to his unauthorized October art installation at the Dupont station, where he hung a sculpture with commentary about flower removal.
“When this piece of performance art is unveiled it’ll be worth the wait,” he wrote Monday. “I still believe Metro will unconditionally surrender due to Surprise #2.”