5 lessons I’ve learned living with 670+ plants

5 lessons I’ve learned living with 670+ plants
With my gorgeous Calathea rufibara, which I highlighted for #FoliageFriday on Instagram. Shortly afterwards, it flowered!

With my gorgeous Calathea rufibara, which I highlighted for #FoliageFriday on Instagram. Shortly afterwards, it flowered!

“My mom wanted me to tell you that you have beautiful plants,” my guest said as she walked into my home.

“That’s wonderful!” I replied. “Tell her thank you.”

“But you don’t understand,” she emphasized. “My mom’s like 60 years old, she lives in Thailand and she doesn’t even use a computer, so I don’t know how she found out about it!”

My Brooklyn home had recently and unexpectedly gone viral. Simply because I have houseplants—A LOT of them. What started off as one fiddle leaf fig in my bedroom around seven years ago dominoed into five hundred beautiful plants, sprawling, climbing and stretching their leafy green arms across my five roomed-apartment.  

I’ve often said the plants in my home are indirectly proportional to the time I spend outdoors! Yet a simple act of getting one houseplant, quickly became a lifestyle choice; surrounding myself with green is simply how I love to live.
— Summer Rayne Oakes

I grew up in the country, and I acknowledge that I miss it—the fresh air, the green grass beneath my feet, the forests behind my house. I suppose if I lived like that here in Brooklyn, I wouldn’t have to overcompensate by bringing the outdoors in. (I’ve often said the plants in my home are indirectly proportional to the time I spend outdoors!) Yet a simple act of getting one houseplant, quickly became a lifestyle choice; surrounding myself with green is simply how I love to live.

Most people would admit that we have a lot to learn from one another, but I would also suggest that we have a lot that we can learn from our houseplants, if we chose to listen. Here are some of the lessons I’ve had the pleasure of learning from my green companions over the years.

A plant in a room can completely change the environment—and if you listen hard enough, they have something to teach us.

A plant in a room can completely change the environment—and if you listen hard enough, they have something to teach us.

Get the right amount of rest. 
In the workaholic, partyholic world we live in, it’s not uncommon for us to push ourselves to the limit. This often can and does work against us. Rest is vital for our productivity and our vitality, as it is for plants. Plants, like people, require down time. At first, this seems counterintuitive because you figure the more light or the more nutrients you give a plant, the more it will grow. Not true. Too much light can photooxidize the leaf’s membrane lipids, making it susceptible to leaf bleaching. And too much fertilizer can lead to wilting. A healthy balance of growth and rest is important for both plants and people, or else we’ll all be dull and wilted. 

Take a moment to breathe.
Photosynthesis in plants occurs during the day; the plant uses its leaves to capture the sunlight, storing it in molecules, which are synthesized from CO2 and water. Oxygen is released in the process, which in turn, is part of the beautiful air that we breathe. At nighttime plants stop producing energy and begin to respire. Respiration, unlike photosynthesis, never halts. So just like us, the plant “breathes” out CO2, though it’s not nearly as much as the oxygen that it gives us. This unique partnership—of plant and human—shows us the importance of taking deep breaths all throughout the day. 

Learn to be still. 
Every month I open up my home to the community for a monthly meditation by way of Medi Club, a quickly growing group of modern meditators. It’s a beautiful way to commune with neighbors and also offer up a respite from the cacophony of city living. I’ve found my home to be very suitable for meditation because it’s peaceful, compliments of the plants that I’ve cultivated along the way. In a way, their quietude helps others find their stillness more easily.

Love your microorganisms.
Both plants and people have evolved to have partnerships with beneficial microorganisms. As a matter of fact, if we removed or compromised our own good bacteria, we may severely compromise our health and wellbeing. It is now estimated that we have as many beneficial bacterial cells in our body as we do our body cells, and it’s important to feed our body cells as well as our bacterial cells if we want to keep our body in working order. Same goes for plants. Plants take in nutrients through their roots, but oftentimes beneficial microorganisms, much like those found in our gut and on our skin, can form partnerships with the roots to increase nutrient uptake or just encourage plant growth in general.

Take care of them and they take care of you. 
Even the most self-sufficient plants (e.g., cacti) at some point need a little attention from their caretaker. But what I’ve discovered is that the time you put into your plants, the care that you show them, is only given back in return. The same can be said of friends and strangers alike. The good energy and time that you give to people, the stronger bonds and friendships you develop, only give you more in return. 🌿