Living with 500 plants makes her happy

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The former model, activist and author Summer Rayne Oakes lives in her Brooklyn apartment like in a greenhouse with more than 500 plants. She tells us about all the benefits of her green roommates when living in the city and makes us want to start gardening immediately.

IRMA: How did you get the idea to grow so many plants indoors?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: I grew up in the country and always felt at home with plants. When my roommate moved out about 6 years ago, the first thing I did was bring home a plant. I haven’t stopped since. It’s become quite the obsession, but I think the only way I’ve been able to survive in the city is by bringing plants indoors.

IRMA: What is it like to live with plants? Do you get attached to them like you get to pets?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: I’m at peace in my home; it’s very much akin to being in a forest on a glorious day. I wake up early—sometimes before the sun rises or just as the sun makes its way through the windows. Early in the morning it’s more yellow and as it comes through it hits the leaves and creates a beautiful frondescence, which is like a greenish-yellow light. I feel so grateful.

IRMA: Can you bring back a plant to life when it is almost dead?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: It depends on the plant. Some are more resilient and forgiving than others—so not always!

IRMA: How about sleeping in a room with plants? I learned as a child that this is not healthy, but are there plants that support sleep or maybe relaxation?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: I have heard this too, but it’s not sound advice. Plants do both photosynthesis—producing oxygen—and also respire—absorbing carbon dioxide. Plants, however, in general produce almost double the oxygen than the CO2 (unless they die or they are burned), and some plants, like succulents and snake plants, produce O2 at night because they have a different kind of metabolism called CAM. I would be more concerned with having too many people in one room, but if you are superstitious about plants, then I would advise having succulents, if you have enough light in your bedroom. Plants of course have other benefits too; studies clearly show they reduce stress in hospital rooms and in work offices, remove volatile organic contaminants in newly-painted homes, and also increase overall productivity.

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IRMA: Can you grow veggies in your apartment?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: I have been growing veggies and fruits in my apartment since August 2015, but that’s thanks to some great light through south-facing windows and some LED grow lights. I think if I didn’t have that, it’d be very challenging! I found the best and easiest ones to grow are all sorts of microgreens and herbs, but also the pineapples, banana, and peppercorn seem to be thriving too… They are just slower growers.

IRMA: Do you use plant-based cosmetic? And if so, what products?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: I personally don’t wear a lot of make-up in everyday life. My basic regimen is a rose mist spray in the morning. I have a couple of brands, including Jurlique and Tromborg; face oil by Pratima skincare or erbaviva; and lip balm by SW Basics or Pangea Organics; sunscreen by Mustela, which is a baby care line, but that typically means they put less crap in it; and some other products by Saje and Soapwall. For hair wash and stuff I’m using AO Biome, which promotes skin health and doesn’t kill your natural microbiome on your skin; and most importantly—Crystal deodorant, which is all natural with no aluminum.

IRMA: Who (no matter if dead or alive) would you like to take out gardening for a day, and why?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: Can I choose two people? It’d be Alexander von Humboldt and Guy Murchie. Humboldt is one of the greatest naturalists of all time and got us on a track of thinking about ecological systems; he had been a great influence on Darwin. And Murchie is by far one of my favorite authors of all time. His knowledge of history, philosophy, and science is transcendent and he seems to weave all together in the most poetic language imaginable. I never tire of his writings.

IRMA: Which kind of plant is the best companion to last all year round and needs the less attention and which plants need the most taking care of?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: Snake plants I find are very forgiving. The most attention-needing plants are likely your herbs and veggies.

IRMA: Why do you need this strong contrast in the probably most urban city?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: It completes me. I don’t think I would have survived this long in the city if I didn’t try to bring nature indoors.

IRMA: Why not simply move out of New York City and live on a farm?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: This is where I’ve come to work, learn and to grow. New York City is stimulating. The people are textured and deeply multi-faceted. There is a deep love for art and culture here. You can have every type of cultural-cuisine imaginable here. I consider this place magical, but you also have to learn to shut it off, because it can be a hyper-stimulus to the senses.

IRMA: Are all theses plants also a metaphor for staying connected with reality in a time where everything seems to be virtual?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: I’d say it isn’t a metaphor for staying connected. It is a way to be connected, to feel rooted in one’s place. I think that’s part of the reason why I feel so at home.

IRMA: Is working with plants calming?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: No doubt in my mind. I feel it every day.

IRMA: How do people react when they see your apartment?
SUMMER RAYNE OAKES: They usually look around in awe and take a deep breath probably for the first time that day.

Read the German version of this article on ICON.