The Plant Educator Shares Her Plant Wisdom

You may remember Summer Rayne Oakes from her incredible, plant-filled Brooklyn apartment that went viral in 2016. Since then, “I set out on a mission to bring people closer to plants by bringing plants closer to them,” she says, via her YouTube channel “Plant One On Me” and her Houseplant Masterclass series. During the COVID pandemic, she and her friends decided to buy a former plant nursery in the Finger Lakes region of New York, “with the goal of turning it into a communal homestead and botanical oasis.” They document their progress on their new channel Flock

Summer shared her plant wisdom in our newest book Remodelista: The Low-Impact Home. Here, she goes deeper, revealing the tool she can’t live without, her favorite method of deterring weeds, and more.

Photography courtesy of Flock.

Your first garden memory:

Above: Summer and her friends are currently transforming 90 acres in the Finger Lakes region into a communal homestead.

My mom kept the most beautiful flower gardens on the street, and we had a large veggie garden and small orchard, too. Towards the back of our land, we had gargantuan rhubarbs that grew around the red currants. I would hide under the rhubarb leaves, like they were folious umbrellas. And I would break the stems and eat them raw—even though they were quite sour. My mother would make French-style crepes with the currants too, which were my favorite. And how can I forget the lilacs! My bedroom was on the second floor of the house and every summer, the lilacs bloomed outside my window and the warm breezes would blow the scent all through my bedroom. It was decadent. Sadly when we left that house, I asked my mother if we could take the lilac bushes, but I would have to wait when I was adult to enjoy the scent of lilacs again.

Book/show/movie/art that has influenced your work:

I think Rick Darke’s and Doug Tallamy’s book, The Living Landscape, really encapsulated creating a garden that selflessly extends beyond yourself to one that focuses on promoting biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem function. Piet Oudolf’s landscape creations are also so soothing to the eye, and I find myself referencing his textures and painterly approach to landscaping.

Garden-related book you return to time and again:

Perhaps not gardening books per se, but I’m constantly reaching for my pollinator identification guides and caterpillar books, for which I have several, because I’m always seeing never-before-seen insects in my garden, especially now that I’ve been focusing on planting insect host plants.

Plant that makes you swoon:

Above: The pollinator garden at Flock.

Symphyotrichum ericoides ’Snow Flurry’; Muhlenbergia capillaris; Eragrosis spectabilis; and All things Liatris, including Liatris microcephala.

Plant that makes you want to run the other way:

Reynoutria japonica (Japanese knotweed) and vinca vine.

Most dreaded gardening chore:

Removing grass from garden edges.

Unpopular gardening opinion:

Above: No space between plants = no space for weeds.

Don’t follow the plant spacing recommendations on the back of plant tags. I like to plant close together to suppress unchosen plants early on and create a carpet of foliage.

The one thing you wish gardeners would stop doing:

Planting only non-native species.

Old wives’ tale gardening trick that actually works:

Composted manure brings big veggies!

Favorite gardening hack:

Plant densely to avoid weeds, plant diversely to bring life.

Tool you can’t live without:

The 8-Tine Poly Mulching Fork is \$8\2.98 at A.M. Leonard.
Above: The 8-Tine Poly Mulching Fork is $82.98 at A.M. Leonard.

A.M. Leonard’s gardening fork for wood chips and mulch.

Every garden needs a…

Healthy soil ecosystem.

Favorite hardscaping material:

Local stone—we have one called Llenroc. I absolutely love the way native stone looks in the garden.

Go-to gardening outfit:

Above: Summer in her favorite gardening uniform.

My olive green overalls.

Favorite nursery, plant shop, or seed company:

The Plantsmen; Rare Roots; Ernst Seeds.

On your wishlist:

Castilleja coccinea (Indian paintbrush) and Rheum nobile.

Not-to-be-missed public garden/park/botanical garden:

Gothenburg Botanic Gardens in Sweden.

The REAL reason you garden:

Above: All wildlife welcome.

I love the life my gardens bring to the land—from the birds to the bugs. Seeing wildlife utilize my gardens is truly fulfilling.

Future projects:

I’ll be taking up more non-native grass from the landscape and doing several different approaches to growing more natively and diversely.

You can find Summer on YouTube here and follow her on Instagram @homesteadbrooklyn and @flockfingerlakes.

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