Today on Holistic Home Tours, we’re checking out an apartment in the heart of NYC that could probably put any suburban garden to shame.
Chef, environmental activist, and all-around boss lady Summer Rayne Oakes lovingly tends to hundreds upon hundreds of plant friends in her Brooklyn, New York, apartment. Oakes describes her escape from the hustle and bustle of city life with the words "light, peace, and plants." We couldn't agree more.
How many plants are you up to these days?
I did an "inventory" this April and at the moment I am at around 670 individual indoor plants, give or take 10 plants. I’m always trading, and sometimes people send me interesting varieties too. All in all, it works out to be around 30 different cultivars, or forms, and around 370 species. It's important for me to keep track of information like this because I've got to keep just about every single one on a fertilizer schedule. It’s like making sure your kids have lunch before going to school!
Do you have a favorite?
I have too many to play favorites, but I’m quite fond of my first plant—a substantially large Ficus lyrata—and I tend to really gravitate toward climbers like Philodendrons and the little, underserved genus of Peperomia.
How does your home relax you? How does it motivate you?
I grew up in the country and am an environmental scientist and entomologist by training. I think one of the main ways that I’ve been able to survive in the craziness of the city is by having such a peaceful place, filled with beautiful plant life. I joke with everyone that I just want to turn my home into a green womb. It’s funny but it’s also such an appropriate metaphor because plants are naturally so soothing, so comforting.
They really affect the way we think and feel. I recently read a book called The Invention of Nature and there is a line in there that says, "Nature has a mysterious communication with your inner feelings." I truly believe that. The idea of being swaddled in plant life—both inside and outdoors—makes me happy. In the same right; it’s an excellent place to work. The challenge is getting me out of the house!
What's the most sentimental thing hanging on your walls and what's the story behind it?
If going the route of sentimental, I’d have to say the mason jar garden that I built with my dad. It was the first father-daughter DIY project that we did together and was literally the most fun that I had ever had with my dad. Since that time, we’ve gone on to build more plant projects together.
Favorite season in your home?
Spring and summer, as that's when most of my plants really start to grow, which is so satisfying to see.
What's the oldest thing in your home? Newest?
I just went fossil hunting in my hometown with my dad and I brought home a few 400-million-year-old fossils. Hard to beat the age of those! And I always have new "shoots" from my plants in my home.
What's your favorite thing about being surrounded by greenery?
I love the peace and inspiration that my plants bring—to me and to anyone else walking into my home. Caring for them is like a moving meditation every day.
What noises can be heard in your home? What smells?
I live in an old industrial, postwar loft built in the 1950s. Originally it was a commercial space for steel working and was semi-converted for residential use, so I can hear creaky floorboards and some muffled street sounds, but for the most part, it’s nice and quiet. As far as smells, it really depends on what’s blooming. My jasmine was blooming the other day, and it literally filled the house with its sweet scent!
What's your favorite room in the house and how do you use it?
Though I have a workroom, I actually most love working in my kitchen at the dining room table. Come to think of it, I spend quite a lot of time in the kitchen—cooking, recipe testing, and writing. The kitchen somehow has some of the best light in the house without being too bright, so I find it a really enchanting place to work.
What’s the best compliment you've ever received on your space?
"Your house inspires me to get plants." I love when people say that because it’s my goal to help people become more attuned to nature, and if the first step is by getting a houseplant, then I think that’s a step in the right direction.
Recreate the look
You don't need 670 plants to get these vibes in your home. Here's how to achieve the look with just one or two.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.