Eye on the ball: Washington authorities crack down on guy planting unauthorized flowers

posted at 8:41 pm on June 25, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham

We’ve talked about the Washington, D.C. Metro system’s multitude of management, accountability, safety, and general performance problems before.

With those problems nowhere close to solved, Metro is keeping its priorities straight:

Quirky garden artist Henry Docter has been surreptitiously planting flowers in public places on four continents since 1979. His unauthorized beautification efforts have frequently aroused surprise and delight — but never a problem until this month, when he ran afoul of Washington’s Metro transit system.

Metro threatened Docter with “arrest, fines and imprisonment” if he dared to weed, water or otherwise tend to more than 1,000 morning glories and other flowers whose seeds he planted in 176 barren flower boxes alongside the top stretch of the north escalators at the Dupont Circle station.

Metro claims, as the city does in overreaches from silly to abusive to lucractive, that it’s all about safety. The empty flower boxes the city has abandoned are on a steep incline down which Docter might fall, you see. Docter has said he’ll sign a waiver or wear a harness, but no dice. He’s never been clamped down on until now.

“I’ve never gotten in trouble for planting flowers,” Docter, 52, said last week. “Never has anyone overreacted with such an absence of common sense.”

Docter spoke in the first interview in which he openly discussed 34 years of clandestine horticulture. The District resident estimated that he’s planted more than 40,000 flowers in spots ranging from the Israeli Embassy and Navy Memorial in the District to faraway locales, including Argentina, Spain and Cambodia.

He has newspaper clips to support his account. The Israeli Embassy acknowledged that it has tolerated his plantings in security barriers on the street for four years.

Sure, it’s not Docter’s private property, and Metro’s entitled to throw a fit I guess, but a taxpayer planting flowers in the flower beds you haven’t bothered to fill seems close enough to a free public works project we should be able to let it go. Is the objection that the city would rather pay thousands of dollars to do a no doubt crappier job keeping up these flower beds? If nothing else, I love it when a quirky performance artist type clashes with overbearing nanny staters in a neighborhood that may have trouble picking a side. What will you do, Dupont?! Are you going to let this “if it can save one sprained ankle” rationale allow the state to protect us from the dangerous knit bombs and public guerilla art that make yours a community of artistic dialogue and creativity? Fight the power. Teachable moment. There are signs they’re rallying behind Docter.

Note how the government discourages good-faith efforts be honest about one’s intentions and views action by private citizens as sorta fundamentally suspicious:

Ironically, Metro wouldn’t have known about Docter’s act if he hadn’t sent it a polite letter June 3 describing how he’d planted the flowers a week earlier. His letter said he’d like to continue caring for them.

“In retrospect, it was a mistake to ask for permission,” Docter said last week. “After I planted the seeds, they sprouted very quickly. I kind of panicked and got concerned they would interpret it as a weed and destroy it.”

It’s clear that Metro wasn’t paying much attention. In October, Docter planted 150 daffodils and tulips in the same boxes. After they bloomed and died, he pruned the spent flowers and turned down and secured the leaves for future vitality.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said that round of gardening apparently slipped under the radar. “It’s sort of beyond the scope of what you would imagine some private citizen would do,” he said.

Moving onto a national story of petty tyrants and misguided policies squelching creativity. This time, it’s a successful business run by an entrepreneur mom that’s in the crosshairs. Meet Rhea Lana Riner, founder of a children’s consignment clothing business with an innovative model that’s run afoul of some 1938 Labor Department rules. Her events end up looking like streamlined, modernized garage sales that cut down on work and increase profits for parents (they get 70 percent), who are therefore willing to volunteer running the events in exchange. Think a yard sale with a splash of eBay and a dash of crowdsourced disruption. Too disruptive, say labor bureaucrats:

What started as a small family business operating out of our home has grown to 22 states. Now, though, it might all turn out to be illegal, thanks to the bureaucratic thinking of the Department of Labor…

A big part of our success are the hundreds of parents — both consignors and shoppers — who voluntarily work brief shifts to help set up before the sale starts. In exchange, these parents get to shop first with more choices and better merchandise.

In January, though, the Department of Labor noticed all this cooperation going on. Months later, investigators concluded that volunteers are “employees” under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

This means paying the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, filling out IRS paperwork and complying with who-knows-what other rules. And all for a pop-up business that lasts days.

Times are tough and the economy is changing. People who forge new ways of doing business are more necessary than ever. This is a business that serves moms and dads trying to raise families in tight times in a cool, new way, giving them an opportunity to make more money with less work than they might spending an entire Saturday running a yard sale. And, we’re just going to bury that innovation and those parents under a mountain of paperwork, thereby disabling the business model and destroying the exact reason parents like it enough that it’s expanded to 22 states? Brilliant.

Liner offers a funny comparison:

I’ve offered regular parents the same opportunities that eBay gives independent resellers. When I do it in the real world to recycle used clothes, the Department of Labor says no way. That’s bunk. My volunteers are not employees or independent contractors. They’re customers.

By this dreadful logic, Build-a-Bear Workshop employs child labor when it lets its young customers assemble their own teddy bears.

“I’m gonna need a W-9 before you can take Mrs. Honeypaw home. I’m a beary overbearing bearucrat!”

Watch her discuss it on Fox Business:


Photo credit for front-page photo to arenamontanus on Flickr Creative Commons.


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All fun and games until somebody eats the seeds.

BL@KBIRD on June 25, 2013 at 8:45 PM

Mr gubberment can I has a leminade stand?

Scrumpy on June 25, 2013 at 8:47 PM

I’d almost say that I don’t blame the Metro, here. Of course they are acting absurdly… unless you realize that everyone sues everyone for everything and they have a point about the fact that if this flower dude hurts himself he could sue them and cost EVERYONE millions. I’d say this is more the fault of lawyers than the Metro.

Warner Todd Huston on June 25, 2013 at 8:47 PM

Normally I’d be outraged, but morning glories are a menace to society. I’ve been trying to eradicate them from my property for 4 years and they keep coming back.

So no matter what those demi-fascists do, the morning glories will prevail. The joke will be on them even if they throw this guy in Hillary’s dungeon with the youtube guy. Morning glories do not need to be watered, weeded or tended to.

forest on June 25, 2013 at 8:47 PM

Metro threatened Docter with “arrest, fines and imprisonment” if he dared to weed, water or otherwise tend to more than 1,000 morning glories and other flowers whose seeds he planted in 176 barren flower boxes alongside the top stretch of the north escalators at the Dupont Circle station

This is where HAL lives, wonder if he turned him in.

RickB on June 25, 2013 at 8:48 PM

Micro management at it’s very worst…

Scrumpy on June 25, 2013 at 8:48 PM

DC trying to nip the Scarlet Pimpernell in the bud??

coldwarrior on June 25, 2013 at 8:49 PM

forest on June 25, 2013 at 8:47 PM

Ohhhhhhhh you Morning Glory h8ist! /

Scrumpy on June 25, 2013 at 8:49 PM

Morning Glories are sworn enemies of the State….and of my garden. Keep ‘em all in DC, I say.

Ace ODale on June 25, 2013 at 8:50 PM

RickB on June 25, 2013 at 8:48 PM

HAL has gone the way these flowers will… dead on the vine… (:

Scrumpy on June 25, 2013 at 8:51 PM

Note how the government discourages good-faith efforts be honest about one’s intentions and views action by private citizens as sorta fundamentally suspicious.

Maybe if more private citizens viewed actions of government as fundamentally suspicious it wouldn’t have come to this.

squint on June 25, 2013 at 8:52 PM

Just get on welfare people. Dont hustle and pass that work ethic on to your children. Just take the govt dole and chill. Looked how it worked out for the black family.

Thicklugdonkey on June 25, 2013 at 8:52 PM

Ace ODale on June 25, 2013 at 8:50 PM

You too? My my, so many h8in’ on the poor flowers… / shame

Scrumpy on June 25, 2013 at 8:52 PM

Thicklugdonkey on June 25, 2013 at 8:52 PM

Your thought may become reality sooner than you think…

Scrumpy on June 25, 2013 at 8:53 PM

War on Gays

Key West Reader on June 25, 2013 at 8:54 PM

I’ve become convinced the only way to deal with these govt idiots is to shame them. When someone gets a letter or phone call from one of those mindless bots, they shouldn’t say the Dept of Labor, or the Metro Authority contacted them, they should name names.

Publicly name the moron who contacted you and tell everyone how idiotic Mr. Jones from the labor dept is, not just some faceless, nameless govt agency. Shame them. Make them dread to face their neighbors.

BacaDog on June 25, 2013 at 8:57 PM

even if they throw this guy in Hillary’s dungeon with the youtube guy.

forest on June 25, 2013 at 8:47 PM

You have such a way with words, you know that?

Cleombrotus on June 25, 2013 at 8:57 PM

What will you do, Dupont?! Are you going to let this “if it can save one sprained ankle” rationale allow the state to protect us from the dangerous knit bombs and public guerilla art that make yours a community of artistic dialogue and creativity? Fight the power. Teachable moment.

LOLZ! MKH! Way to go!

ted c on June 25, 2013 at 8:58 PM

Mr gubberment can I has a leminade stand?

Scrumpy on June 25, 2013 at 8:47 PM

and put a 1000 potential unionized leminade stand workerz outta business? For pete’s sake no!!
@MrGubberment

ted c on June 25, 2013 at 8:59 PM

Easy. Hire illegals and you won’t have to do any of that nasty paperwork OR pay $7.25 an hour…

/

UnderstandingisPower on June 25, 2013 at 9:02 PM

I wish Metro would concentrate on running a, you know, subway system that doesn’t suck.

Tonight there was another disaster on the Red Line, and to make it worse, we had a very earnest operator who thought it would be helpful to talk over the P.A. system non-stop and didn’t realize it would bug the living $#!+ out of us.

Attila (Pillage Idiot) on June 25, 2013 at 9:08 PM

UnderstandingisPower on June 25, 2013 at 9:02 PM

Me no tink dat sarc me tink dat be reality pretty soon ;)

Scrumpy on June 25, 2013 at 9:09 PM

the fact that there even is a person who goes around planting flowers just out of the goodness of his heart makes me happy and gives me a little more hope in humanity.

although the gov’t actions here took away that hope…

oh well. i signed the petition and it made me feel better XD

Sachiko on June 25, 2013 at 9:10 PM

ted c on June 25, 2013 at 8:59 PM

Snort! Chuckle!

Scrumpy on June 25, 2013 at 9:11 PM

The problem is someone has not been forced to give up money in a form of higher taxes so a committee could decide what flowers would be diverse and multicultural. Then someone who could careless about how it looks will then plant and tend the flower boxes.

When it cost an outrageous amount of money and looks like crap then and only then will it be acceptable.

uberjim on June 25, 2013 at 9:15 PM

Sachiko on June 25, 2013 at 9:10 PM

Yeah! It does make one feel good!! I signed it! Thanks for posting (:

Scrumpy on June 25, 2013 at 9:17 PM

This is where HAL lives, wonder if he turned him in.

RickB on June 25, 2013 at 8:48 PM

HAL would do anything for der Fuhrer.

NotCoach on June 25, 2013 at 9:18 PM

…war on flowers!

KOOLAID2 on June 25, 2013 at 9:42 PM

I’d almost say that I don’t blame the Metro, here. Of course they are acting absurdly… unless you realize that everyone sues everyone for everything and they have a point about the fact that if this flower dude hurts himself he could sue them and cost EVERYONE millions. I’d say this is more the fault of lawyers than the Metro.

Warner Todd Huston on June 25, 2013 at 8:47 PM

Really, it’s this.

trigon on June 25, 2013 at 10:00 PM

I’ve been keeping up the flower pots at a couple of local post offices – one for several years, and one I just started this year. This year, somebody Important at the post office decided that after years of neglect of the landscaping, what they really need to do to attract more customers is to redo the landscaping.

I had planted vinca (periwinkle) from my own yard and from the local nursery in the pots, which are under an overhang and get no rain, because the stuff is virtually bombproof once established, would fill the pots, bloom, and hopefully discourage people from stubbing out their cigarettes out in the pot. The vinca was spreading and looking very nice.

Today I stopped in and saw that a) they “planted” the pots, which mostly consisted of taking plants out of their plastic containers and sticking them, intact, only halfway into the existing soil b) moved my vinca around roughly where they didn’t just pull it up and discard it (despite the landscaper assuring me they would leave it), and then they didn’t water. In a week, half those plants will be dead (if I don’t go water them myself). In a month, they’ll all be dead.

Your tax dollars at work. And I was doing it for free. Better.

chotii on June 25, 2013 at 10:05 PM

Flower… power…??????

Glenn Jericho on June 25, 2013 at 10:24 PM

This wouldn’t be a problem if Docter had a union card.

Liam on June 25, 2013 at 10:24 PM

It’s not about the flowers, it’s not about the rules, and it’s not about safety. It’s about the job, one that a SEIU or other public employee union member could be paid for. It doesn’t matter that there’s no money to hire anyone to do what he’s doing, even the potential of a job and another Union member or two has to be jealously protected from do-gooders.

I ran into the same attitude when I did volunteer work for the state forest fire department. I had skills that they needed in an emergency, but they couldn’t afford a full-time employee. Didn’t matter, I was potentially taking away a union worker’s job and they did everything they could to make my work as useless and troublesome as possible.

Government wants to stamp out as much private productivity as they possibly can. That’s how they keep the control and the money and the power.

Socratease on June 25, 2013 at 10:43 PM

Morning Glories are an obnoxious invasive species. They have taken hours of my life to weed them from my garden. I say hell yes to the Metro persecuting this biologically alliterate jerk.

I would take the effort to go kill them myself if I lived in DC.

thuja on June 25, 2013 at 11:10 PM

Look at the pic. Those aren’t flowers! Those are transmitters and receivers!

Shy Guy on June 25, 2013 at 11:20 PM

Glad to see the HA resident psycho ranting earlier, not.

If only our Beltway masters had cracked down on what the Tsarnaev brothers were planting in Boston…

viking01 on June 25, 2013 at 11:50 PM

Your tax dollars at work. And I was doing it for free. Better.

chotii on June 25, 2013 at 10:05 PM

Well, there’s your problem!

It’s not about the flowers, it’s not about the rules, and it’s not about safety. It’s about the job, one that a SEIU or other public employee union member could be paid for. It doesn’t matter that there’s no money to hire anyone to do what he’s doing, even the potential of a job and another Union member or two has to be jealously protected from do-gooders.

Government wants to stamp out as much private productivity as they possibly can. That’s how they keep the control and the money and the power.

Socratease on June 25, 2013 at 10:43 PM

IIRC, a few years ago, a Boy Scout had to give up on an Eagle project because it involved some kind of work that the union had a lock on. Not that they were going to actually do it, of course, but didn’t want to set a precedent and have the city (?) discover that the union wasn’t needed.

AesopFan on June 26, 2013 at 12:08 AM

Control is the key word.

May all the bad in the world strike the controllers.

Schadenfreude on June 26, 2013 at 12:15 AM

hi guys i dont really have much of an opinion on this seeing as how i try to follow the “if you cant say anything nice dont say anything at all” rule so instead i will just say hello hope your all doing well and sorry im not around much these days. i went back to school and homework takes up most of my time. haha… but soon enough i will be able to answer your obamacare questions! lol

katee bayer on June 26, 2013 at 1:27 AM

Study well katee :)

Schadenfreude on June 26, 2013 at 1:54 AM

They’re out there, the ones who have nothing constructive to do.

mixplix on June 26, 2013 at 5:50 AM

Ms. Reiner makes a great point: anyone prepping goods for sale at garage sales, church rummage sales, white elephant sales and even school book night sales or bake sales need to be paid minimum wage and issued a 1099 , if the idiotic nutjobs in the DOL get their way.

Remind me again: what’s the purpose of the DOL?

MTF on June 26, 2013 at 6:12 AM

Metro’s entitled to throw a fit I guess

Huh? What kind of lazy writing is this? Also, no it isn’t.

fossten on June 26, 2013 at 7:05 AM

I would take the effort to go kill them myself if I lived in DC.

thuja on June 25, 2013 at 11:10 PM

You talking about flowers, or the unborn babies at the abortion clinics?

gryphon202 on June 26, 2013 at 7:17 AM

Remind me again: what’s the purpose of the DOL?

MTF on June 26, 2013 at 6:12 AM

Same as the rest of the government: To restrict what Joe and Jane Q. Public may do, by force if necessary.

gryphon202 on June 26, 2013 at 7:17 AM

This, like all that they do, is not about what they say it is, in this case, flowers.
It is merely one of many (think IRS) planned and programmed methods of intimidation and control aimed directly at our freedom–that we may never do, say or think (that attack on religious conscience/hate crimes etc.)anything which they do not specifically allow–regardless of it’s good for society.

We are in the intermediate stages of a dictatorship, however defined. Our freedom went out the door when we threw God and absolute truth out the “me-first” door.

Don L on June 26, 2013 at 7:47 AM

When I was living in the DC metro area (Alexandria, VA) the DuPont Metro station was a regular stop…after “coming out”…since DuPont Circle was generally a gay area of NW DC. So it’s no surprise that a quirky artist would find support for his effort there.

Although I agree that allowing anybody to use Metro property for their own purposes could have disastrous results…especially in an era post-9/11. And that’s a shame. I some respects like this, the terrorists have won.

JetBoy on June 26, 2013 at 8:22 AM

This kind of crap is everywhere. Some years ago in a city here in MA there was a deep pothole that had been in a street for over a year. A resident tired of seeing cars ruining tires bought some driveway patch and filled the hole. He was arrested and fined for doing unauthorized repair on public property. The city then dug out the patch and it remained a hole in the road for almost another year. I another case the husband of a woman I worked with threw some cement on some broken sidewalk in front of their house. The city, this time in RI, threatened them with fines, ripped up the entire sidewalk, put in another sidewalk and charged her 7 grand for the work because they had to fix resident inflicted damage to the walk. She brought it to court and lost.

Dr. Frank Enstine on June 26, 2013 at 8:47 AM

LOL

I got called a “Morning Glory” in the Gulch. Truth be told, I’ve done this. I buy bags of wildflower seeds and throw them in empty lots or overgrown fields. Heh. I just haven’t told anyone until now, lol.

Hi Janet!!!

Fallon on June 26, 2013 at 9:10 AM

Can anyone point out, again, the clause or section in the Constitution that allows the federal government to regulate labor activities in any manner, whatsoever? It certainly can’t be the interstate commerce clause, since none of the bits described above involve commerce across state lines. It can’t be the good and plenty clause, since there’s no welfare benefit. I say tell them to go to Hades and do what you want.

GWB on June 26, 2013 at 9:46 AM

I hope you didn’t get morning glory, bindweed, musk thistle, kudzu, … seeds, Fallon.

My pet peeve. Hippy dippy garden bloggers promote this crap, and people think they have the right to throw seed bombs anywhere they want.

cptacek on June 26, 2013 at 9:46 AM

IIRC, a few years ago, a Boy Scout had to give up on an Eagle project because it involved some kind of work that the union had a lock on. Not that they were going to actually do it, of course, but didn’t want to set a precedent and have the city (?) discover that the union wasn’t needed.

AesopFan on June 26, 2013 at 12:08 AM

That’s a common problem with Boy Scout projects. It’s why so many of them nowadays end up only really benefitting some private entity instead of the whole community. If you want to landscape the local police precinct, some union goon will eventually complain.

GWB on June 26, 2013 at 9:50 AM

cptacek on June 26, 2013 at 9:46 AM

Late but checking back in… I’ve never been called hippy dippy before, lol. Nope. The seed mix I use is for all native species (Prairie) with a few annuals mixed in like Cosmos, mostly Echinacea, Gaillardia, Monarda and Rudbeckia.

Fallon on June 26, 2013 at 9:31 PM