A cold November wind blows over barren garden beds once overflowing with flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Leaves fall from the fruit trees and Japanese maple. A once lush lawn turns brown.
No matter, Christie and Steve Sommers have brought the outside in. Numerous green plants thrive on the sill and hang from the ceiling above the large bowed window in the living room and flourish in every sunlit space in the couple’s twin home in Wyndmoor, Montgomery County.
Angel wing begonia, dracaena, African milk bush, Swiss cheese philodendron, sansevieria, cardboard and pickle plants, barrel, ric rac and monkey tail cacti, trailing jade, and more, grow in terra cotta pots, in clay pots molded by Christie’s artist friends, or in containers she shaped from sturdy carpet remnants.
A tall umbrella plant has a place of honor by the staircase. It belonged to Christie’s late mother, Patricia McHugh, who, Christie said, “had a knack for growing plants” in the Ardsley, Montgomery County, home where Christie grew up.
Daughter inherited mother’s green thumb. This past summer, the Sommers’ indoor garden of almost 100 plants in various shapes and sizes was designated a “Garden of Distinction” in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s annual Gardening and Greening Contest.
Christie is active on a plant swap Facebook page, trading indoor plant cuttings for perennial seeds for her outdoor garden. “Plants,” she said, “filter the air” in the 1,219-square-foot home she now shares 24-7 with Steve, a sound engineer and their son, Ash, 8, who is attending second grade virtually.
When the Sommerses purchased their late 19th century home in 2013, the kitchen had been renovated, beige carpeting installed, and walls painted white.
Steve and Christie replaced the heating and air-conditioning systems, painted the twin’s siding a warm bark brown, and added a deck. Steve built a tree house with a zip line for Ash, as well as the pergola and potting area, a small greenhouse, and the raised beds.
Besides cooking with herbs she grew, Christie created her own kitchen apothecary, making tinctures, medicinal teas, and salves from herbs. Also, she said, “to cut down on landfill waste, I experiment with making lotions, shampoo, dish soap, and cleaners from scratch.”
Christie operates West Oak Design from a workshop on her third floor. She makes jackets, shirts, and dresses, repurposing clothing from thrift shops and buying some linen and cotton online. She makes jewelry, too, and uses leather swatches from furniture stores and other sources to fashion purses and wallets. Her special sewing machines can stitch dense materials like carpet remnants. Everything is recycled. She frames collages made from leftover fabric scraps. The work is displayed in her home, along with art bartered for West Oak Design items with artist friends.
Christie, who has a degree in interior design from the former Art Institute of Philadelphia, skillfully integrated houseplants into the living areas. There are no runaway vines for Steve or Ash to trip over. Greenery brightens the white, gray, and tan color scheme in the master bedroom, where Steve made a headboard from cork tiles.
His mother, Joan Sommers, painted the red rooster on the wall behind the charcoal sofa in the living room. She also painted the sunflowers over the dining table, which belonged to the Sommers family. Steve grew up on a farm in South Jersey, and his mother’s art often has country themes.
Christie found dining chairs online and rewove the mesh backs. She retrieved the two midcentury Modern black leather armchairs from the trash. After removing the mildew, she did some research and discovered that the chairs appear to have been designed by Takeshi Nii, a Japanese furniture maker whose work is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
With time on his hands, Steve recently used scrap wood to build the Little Free Library box in front of the house and painted the cute Kids Books Only sign. Christie has been hand dyeing some of her West Oak Design fabrics with fermented black walnuts, onion skins, and sassafras she grew.
And she continues to add to her apothecary including making tooth powder.
“I’m fine with it,” she said “but Ash is a hard sell.”
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