Everyday Legacy: Henry Docter

Henry Docter, of DC, at the Dupont Circle Metro Station in June 2013. (Ricky Carioti/Washington Post)
The Phantom Planter

Henry Docter is an artist, a father and a lawyer.  He is also known as "The Phantom Planter." I am fortunate to know Henry, and to have witnessed some of the amazing spaces he has beautified with flowers in the DC metro area. 

Two years ago, he planted 1,000 morning glories, cardinal flowers and cypress vines at a Nothwest Washington, DC Metro station. The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) ultimately removed all of the plants. Henry was featured in The Washington Post, and the history of the events surrounding this can be read on change.org

Henry’s spirit can be seen and felt through his words, actions and presence. This Everyday Legacy profile is written in his own words. 

I have no idea what first inspired me to plant flowers. Perhaps it was seeing and appreciating a garden someone else planted outside our high school and thinking I’d like to do that too.  And then when I was at college the next year, a guy on my dorm room floor and I started a group that planted flowers around campus.

Planting has also been a response to pain.  We all respond differently to life’s pain.  I plant flowers.  Somehow they reflect how I want the world to be.

I hope and know that flowers I plant will make strangers smile.  There’s something wonderful about a gift like that.  And this kind of knowledge helps balance out my feelings when I stupidly listen to the news or glance at the newspaper and allow the media to distort my reality. Every time I do allow the latest terrible thing form the news to enter my head, I’m able to counter it and know that I’m doing something small (and easily copiable) to balance things out and make my reality more life affirming and well...good.

The greatest joy from The Washington Post Phantom Planter articles, one of which was on the front page, was knowing the flowers were appreciated and that thousands of people were willing to stand with me, sign a petition on change.org and share their encouraging thoughts.

By going outside of my comfort zone and standing up for myself, and saying what was precisely on my mind, I found I increased self acceptance, and it was fun.  It also gave me more courage and hope that I might continue to actually achieve my life’s goal, which is simply to live first, die second and make beautiful things in between.

I also enjoy seeing flowers appear all around town and watching complete strangers take pictures of them. Part of the performance art I’ve been doing has something to do with trust.  And when a complete stranger anonymously sent me a lot of cash in the U.S. mail, I knew I’d succeeded. Especially because of all the flowers bulbs I bought with that cash this past fall.

Another part of it has to do with an artistic individual’s intrinsic ability and perhaps duty to create something beautiful where needed, in the most straight forward method that conserves and preserves his or her artistic energy for the making of beautiful things that really need to be brought into existence.

The greatest impact of these experiences on me is that I felt validated, touched and not so alone.

The greatest challenge was dealing with small-minded bureaucrats who are not encouraged to take risks, nor trust an individual bearing flowers.

In terms of the planting, I do not employ any particular strategy. I have been doing the same thing over and over again here, there and everywhere. Every spring and every fall on five continents…listening to my inner voice that says, “This is a job for The Phantom Planter.” 

What keeps me inspired? I get pleasure and energy from seeing the flowers I’ve planted.  The knowledge that but for a little effort on my part there wouldn’t be something beautiful here or there energizes me and makes me smile. Planting flowers and watching them grow is an integral part of my creative and artistic process. (Yes, that’s a subtle hint that something wonderful and surprising has been hidden for decades and may make an appearance in the next 2-5 years.)  ; )

Like many other kindred spirits, I also get a good deal of energy from simply making the gardens in what used to be a trash heap or a place to put out cigarette butts, and simply planting the seeds even if I’m not around to see the flowers grow and bloom. 

Click here to see Henry's favorite video  (He is inspiring!)
Click here for the latest news on The Phantom Planter
(June 2015)


OLC wants to honor contributors to the greater consciousness for positive change. Who do you know who has made an impact on your life or the circumstances of another being or place? If you would like to nominate someone you know or share your own story, please connect with OLC. Thank you! everydaylegacy@onelegacycoaching.com  

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