Summer Rayne Oakes, Instagram star, environmental scientist, and unlikely city dweller, talks to the New Yorker about her love of plants, her very own New York jungle, and what she thinks are the reasons for the surge in popularity of plant ownership among the Millennial generation.
Summer has more than 1100 plants in her Brooklyn apartment, with just over 560 different species. She is a plant influencer: she makes instructional and educational videos on how to care for houseplants, which species to buy for different kinds of homes, and how plants can benefit your mental health.
She believes the plant trend has really taken root with Millenials due to their need for a space of their own. Young people nowadays are untethered, living transient lives in big cities, often without a garden (or even a room!) to themselves. To reclaim control, they buy plants, and look after them as if they were children.
New plants shops are popping up all the time: but what are people’s motivations when going into a plant shop? People often want plants for aesthetic reasons, and don’t know how to look after them. One interviewee names her plants after artists and rappers. Another believes young people use plants to express ‘cool’ – to show skill, and a level of maturity, which even if lacking, is represented on social media.
On Sundays, Summer spends between one and nine hours caring for her plants. She uses integrated pest management – bringing in good bugs to eat the bad ones. Owning such a volume of plants truly is an all-encompassing lifestyle choice. So what compels people to make this choice?
More and more people are gravitating towards cities, but missing the balance that a quieter life can provide. Plants help relieve stress, depressive tendencies, anger, and other negative emotions. The greenery creates a calming environment, something it seems many young people crave. And so nature helps restore the natural balance.