Model, author and environmental activist Summer Rayne Oakes has transformed her home into an urban garden, sharing her Brooklyn apartment with more than 1,000 houseplants. She tells us about her book, How To Make A Plant Love You.
What sparked your passion in the environment?
Living close to nature as a kid helped tremendously, as I had an endless fascination with the outdoors. Having parents that fostered, shared in, and supported my interests was also critical. When I went to university, my advisor, professors and mentors all helped continue to stimulate and encourage my pursuits.
I have friends, however, who didn’t always share the same interests in nature, so that understanding between us really made me analyze how I was talking about what I love. It made me get more creative with how I approached certain topics—some more sensitive or polarising than others—and I began to try to meet people where they were at in their understanding of our environment and their place in it.
What inspired you to move from a career in the field to inspiring others to connect with nature?
If someone looked at my CV, they would see a very non-linear, creative and non-conforming professional path. I’ve worked in so many different industries: fashion, beauty, food, media—and everything in between. To this day, I cannot give you a blueprint for how I’ve done what I’ve accomplished. The thread that connects it all, however, is my passion for the environment, so once you look at it from that lens, it all makes sense.
At the moment, I’m largely focusing on connecting people—particularly urban dwellers—back to nature through the beauty of plants and gardening. I consult on the topic and on the side I run a blog and YouTube channel called Homestead Brooklyn and Plant One On Me, respectively; an online audiovisual course on houseplant care called the Houseplant Masterclass; and have just published a book called How to Make a Plant Love You: Cultivate Green Space in Your Home & Heart. I love that I can tie my love of plants and my education into my professional pursuits.
What was the inspiration behind the book, and what do you want readers to take away from it?
How to Make a Plant Love You is a bit more like a relationship guide to living with plants – connecting us to them on a deeper spiritual and philosophical level.
Houseplant sales are up 50% in the last three years. There are deeper psychological reasons for this than we realize. We need plants even more than we think. The act of caring for another living thing is an essential part of being human. It helps you get outside your head and live a more mindful, joyful life. For those of us who live in cities and far away from our families, caring for plants is the easiest way to step into the role of nurturer.
The book gives you tactics on how to get closer to plants. I share a mindfulness routine specifically designed to connect with plants outside your home, just walking through the city, along with meaningful rituals that will help you get the most out of the plants inside your apartment. On the practical side, I’ll teach you how to pick out the right plants for your home, and teach you the meta-skills of observation and patience, which will do so much more to make you a good plant parent than troubleshooting problems through Google.
You’ve managed to grow 1000 houseplants in your Brooklyn apartment – how have you turned your home into an urban jungle?
Firstly, I don’t want to discourage anyone by the amount of plants I have in my home, because it’s not about having a lot of plants and what’s inspirational to one person may be overwhelming to another. I started growing plants in my apartment 10 years ago because I wanted to change the energy of my space; I wanted to cultivate life; and then curiosity kicked in—and I wanted to grow new and different plants. I like the way they look; I like the way they make me feel; and I love the rituals and routines that I’ve developed by having plants in my life. It’s enriching. It’s grounding. It’s stimulating.
I do believe that there is a plant for everyone at some point in their life. But even if you feel as if you are incapable of taking care of a plant in your home, I encourage people to begin to take notice of them in different ways through How to Make a Plant Love You.
Can you share your top three plant-keeping hacks?
- Know the quality, quantity and intensity of the light in your home. When you have a sense of that, then you’ll have more direction on what plant may go where.
- Determine what kind of caretaker you would be for your plants. Are you someone who is more hands-off or hands-on? That too will determine the best plant for you
- What space (based on the light positioning) are you looking to fill? Is it a shelf space, a corner of the room? Some plants will fit better than others.
I document all this out in this video on Plant One On Me.
How do you find a balance between your professional roles and taking time for yourself to relax?
Like most people these days, I work a lot. And I’m a person with a lot of ideas, and I have a tendency to execute on those ideas, so I am always juggling what I want to accomplish in a given day. For example, I produce between eight to nine high quality videos on YouTube and Instagram a week—and I do much of the filming and editing myself. I realise that’s not the best use of my time at the moment, so I’m setting up efficient workflows; taking time out to find good partners to work with, training them, and allowing myself breathing room to concentrate on other areas and ideas—and having time to rest and relax, is vital. Of course, having rituals and routines -some of which I already alluded to – like taking care of my houseplants; volunteering regularly at my community garden; hosting plant swaps for the community; and even taking care of my chicken and the chickens at the senior citizen’s service center three times a day, is all very helpful!
Who plant-sits for you when you’re travelling or find yourself away from home?
I typically hire someone who works at a local plant shop.
Can you share a sustainability secret with us?
The biggest one is this: learn to give your time and services to a cause or person you care about in your community on a regular basis. This serves so many purposes on both selfish and selfless levels: it adds value to your life and the life of that person or your community, it helps you build a meaningful routine to your life and ultimately helps create the community you want to live in.