Hardball with Chris Matthews, 7/8/13, 5:57 PM ET

Smerconish: Get permission before you end up uprooting a good thing

The Phantom Planter, famous for guerrilla greenery across four continents, was scolded by the Washington D.C. Metro authority for planting morning glories on their property without a permit. MSNBC Hardball guest host Michael Smerconish gives his take...

‘Phantom Planter’ should have gotten permission

Updated
By Michael Smerconish

Let me finish tonight with this…

This was a busy news weekend especially for a holiday, much of it tragic: the horrible airline crash in San Francisco, the violent and unsettled situation in Egypt, and the shooting of 67 people over the extended weekend in Chicago alone.

But when I read the Sunday Washington Post online, I noted that the most popular item was a column written by Robert McCartney about the latest caper of the man who bills himself as the Phantom Planter.

Henry Docter is a 52-year-old green thumbed good Samaritan who for the last three decades has been surreptitiously planting flowers on four continents in an effort to beautify public spaces. He views his work as performance art.

Never has he encountered a problem, that is, until he planted 1,000 morning glories, cardinal flowers and cypress vines at a Metro Station in the nation’s capitol. His plan was that they would bloom in 176 otherwise barren flower boxes in colors of red, white and blue from August to October.

But Metro wasn’t happy.

Docter was threatened with “arrest, fines and imprisonment” if he dared to weed, water or otherwise tend to his work alongside the top stretch of the Dupont Circle station.

The stated concern: safety. According to McCartney’s coverage, Metro worried that Docter could hurt himself if he fell given the steep incline of where he had planted.

But Docter wasn’t arrested.

Instead, Metro pulled out all the flowers, claiming they did so in anticipation of repairs to paver blocks. The flower boxes sit empty.

And where the flowers once were, a healthy debate now grows.

Many are incredulous of Metro’s justification, and angry that the transportation network, habitually broke and lacking resources, could suddenly move so expeditiously to uproot a good thing.

One blogging supporter of the Phantom Planter advised him to “next time try bamboo.”

But others say not so fast. The Phantom Planter trespassed, they argue, and put flowers were he had no business gardening.

He planted one plant that is invasive, one that dies when it gets cold, and one that needs lots of watering.

He planted them on a very steep slope.

Perhaps he meant well, but I don’t blame Metro for ripping them out. What if someone hurt themselves, trying to water the lovely things?

That last part was typical of many comments that in the end, blamed lawyers for this Gardengate.

But actually, I think most lawyers could have solved this by having Mr Docter sign a simple liability waiver so that he could have tended to his crop.

Flowers are an easy call – which is why this story gets people mad as hell at government.

But what if it’s not flowers… but some other form of performance art placed on someone else’s property?

My advice to the Phantom Planter – keep planting, but next time - get permission!

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'Phantom Planter' should have gotten permission

Updated