Meet a Woman Who Keeps 500 Plants in Her Brooklyn Apartment - Modern Farmer

Meet a Woman Who Keeps 500 Plants in Her Brooklyn Apartment

"I think that the only way I've really been able to survive in New York is by surrounding myself with plants,” says Summer Rayne Oakes, who lives in what might be New York City's greenest apartment.

The model-turned-sustainable-clothing-activist-turned-sustainable-food-movement-activist has had an eventful career. Oakes currently heads up marketing for Foodstand, whose aim is to “to connect a community of good eaters,” and also runs a website about detoxing from sugar. But leading up to these jobs, she earned an environmental science degree, worked as a model, wrote a book (with another due out this year), and launched a service to connect designers with sustainable fabrics.

For 11 years, Oakes has lived in a 1,200-square-foot converted industrial space in Williamsburg, which is filled with 500 plants, including a living wall, an irrigated vertical garden constructed out of mason jars, and, in a closet garden, edible plants ranging from the familiar (herbs, greens) to the exotic (a pineapple plant, curry leaves – the latter of which she raves about). Although Oakes studied environmental science in school, her love of agriculture goes back further than that. She grew up, she says, on five acres of land in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, alongside chickens, goats, and an orchard.

To garden in an apartment is a daunting task; lack of space, soil, and especially sunlight tend to put firm limitations on what you can and can’t grow. “I’m lucky that I have windows on both sides of my house, one south-facing, which gets a lot of light, and one north-facing,” says Oakes. “In the windows is where I have more of the light-necessary plants, like ivy, which I can’t eat, and herbs.”

Her apartment is an attempt to cram a country house into a Brooklyn apartment. None of that is really possible in the city, but Oakes does her best: a vermiculture kit beneath the kitchen sink, a compost bin, LED lighting systems, a sub-irrigation system for certain plants, and plants, plants everywhere. Succulents line the bathroom. An old sled on which her pots and pans are hung also include low-light-tolerant philodendrons.

“I think my ultimate goal is to, like, homestead in Brooklyn,” she says. “But I might have to move to a different place because I don’t know if my landlord would take to bees on the roof or chickens.”

Watering the plants takes “about a half an hour every day, which I view as more of a meditative experience,” Oakes says. “And then once a week I probably spend a good hour, hour and a half doing composting, clipping back, that kind of stuff.”

“I kind of harvested them a little too soon but I got the cutest mini potatoes from my potato plants,” says Oakes.

A living wall of plants in Oakes’ bedroom was designed with a sub-irrigation system; hooked up to her sink, the plants are fed from underneath.

The plant obsession, if you will, started from a single fiddleleaf fig plant, about four feet tall. That fig, says Oakes, “has now taken over my bedroom ceiling.”

“I have over 500 plants,” says Oakes. “Will I get more? It really depends on whether I can fit them.” This living wall seems about as full as it can be.

Oakes’ indoor garden includes a wide variety of herbs and an eclectic array of fruits and vegetables, including this baby pineapple.

The mason-jar garden doesn’t produce enough for fruits and vegetables, but for herbs in an apartment, it works well.



Oakes’ plants aren’t set up in uniform containers; anything that can be used to house a plant is, like these recycled tea tins.

Sometimes growing a wide variety of plants in the relative dark and coldness of a Brooklyn apartment requires creative solutions, like these miniature greenhouses.

Aliza Eliazarov

Oakes with one of her hundreds of houseplants.


Succulents in the bathroom need little light and don’t shed much – perfect for perching on top of the loo.


With space at a premium, Oakes has had to build upward – in this case, an herb garden along the wall.

“Obviously sometimes it’s for the novelty rather than ‘oh, I’m going to eat for the week,’” says Oakes, but some of her plants, especially the herbs and greens, produce enough for her needs.

Oakes gives names to different areas in her apartment. She calls this “the hanging gardens,” constructed of plywood and rope.

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5 years ago

I am a plant lover as well. My kitchen is full of plants , they have actually attached themselves to each other and the wall. I do talk to my plants, play music for them as well. My home is a place of peace and very serene. My place to go after a long day at the work, to the quiet. Do you have a blog?

Krishna Prasad
5 years ago

I have a question. Does it feel as though the house is rich in oxygen in comparison to other rooms or even outside of the apartment itself?

Diane uoung
5 years ago

Roseann you should come to Reading we have very cheap email is

5 years ago

Interesting post. Thanks for sharing this astounding post.

5 years ago

Love all your plants…just saw you on Rachael Ray…?

5 years ago

This story is very interesting. It would be nice to try something similar, if not on a smaller scale, in the apartment where we live. We would also like to keep bees on the roof.

Sherry sigler
5 years ago

I am trying to get ahold of you to see if you would send me a slip of purple potato plant, I have been wanting one for awhile I don’t know how I can get one, can you tell me if you could send me one and tell me how much it cost and I’ll gladly pay you! Thank you so much sherry Sigler

Teresa Watson
4 years ago

Hello and Happy Valentine’s Day,
Could you please advice me on what grow lights to use for a shelf full of plants. I have some 4ft, T12 grow lights but you can’t buy them any more. Thanks for any advice you have.

4 years ago

Hello! I’d love to do something similar, but I’m a little daunted by the watering process with a totally plant-filled home. How do you do it? One-by-one with a watering can, or do you have a rotation method? Thanks!

9 months ago

What lights do you use for these plants for photosynthesis?