"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.”
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?
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?
Roseann you should come to Reading we have very cheap plants.my email is [email protected]
Interesting post. Thanks for sharing this astounding post.
Love all your plants…just saw you on Rachael Ray…?
[…] city dwellers, long for a green garden. Some people even try to replicate an outdoor garden in their apartment. Whether they are successful or not is open to […]
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.
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
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.
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!