Crimes and Ethical Dilemmas in the News
Two items in Sunday’s papers caught my interest, and possibly yours. “Metro edict choking Phantom Planter’s blooms” in the Washington Post really warmed my heart – except for the part about Metro. Part-time lawyer Henry Doctor has been planting flowering plants in the 176 otherwise abandoned little planters along the escalator leading to the Dupont Circle subway station (aka Metro). I’ve ridden those multi-story escalators and very much appreciated the plants, and had no idea a volunteer gardener was to thank for them. Trouble is, he asked for permission and was told he’d face “arrest, fines and imprisonment” if he continued to tend to the 1,000 flowers he planted there. (By the way, the story doesn’t tell us why they’re abandoned. For at least 20 years they contained groundcover Junipers and looked terrific.)
The back story is that the Phantom Planter here has has been quietly performing “clandestine horticulture” for 34 years, with no trouble. He’s planted 40,000 flowers far and wide – at embassies and memorials, even in other countries, like Cambodia, Argentina. He tells the Post, “I’m not denying that I’m a little nuts”. I say, nuts in the best possible way. He’s the son of a well-known District community activist, and I guess he sees beautification as a form of community activism, which I certainly think it is.
Until now he’s stayed under the radar, but since his citation has gone public with this website, which is bringing attention and support for his cause, as have other online campaigns to protest anti-gardening laws and regulations. (Think HOAs and cities that require all-grass front yards.) Doctor is respecting Metro’s order that he stop watering the plants (Metro cites safety concerns), but he’s worried. He’s a gardener. When there’s no rain, we fret.
Next, in “Horticulture Heist, the New York Times’ Ethicist was asked to weigh in on the ethics of taking cuttings from plants in a shopping center – which plants could not be found at any store, we’re told. So, is this stealing? The Ethicist’s considered opinion is that if he were to place unethical acts on an ascending continuum of 1 to 100, he’d give the cuttings-thieves “a 4. Maybe a 3.”
One more thing. This week’s New Yorker has a cool city garden on the cover, and click here to scroll through years of gardening-related covers.
on June 25, 2013 at 8:31 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy, What’s Happening.