Plant Guru Hilton Carter Wants to Help You Grow an Instagram-Worthy Indoor Garden

We talk with the design star about his new book and upcoming live event in L.A.

Hilton Carter has inspired thousands of people to fill their homes and workspaces with lush plants. The designer’s influential Instagram, @hiltoncarter, has been populating feeds with jungle-y, green images for years. Now, he’s compiling what he’s learned about indoor flora into a new book, Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beautiful Plants

Wild at Home cover hilton carter

"Wild at Home," (c) CICO Books

Every Instagram feed, chic café, and stylish hotel is filled with greenery now, which Carter attributes in part to our busy lives that can disconnect us from the natural world.

“More folks are moving back into the cities, and there’s not much green outside, so they want to bring it inside,” he says. “When someone enters a space that’s filled with green, there’s no way they don’t leave inspired to create something similar. Greenery has a power to it that’s like no other.”

For him, the plant infatuation hit in 2011. “I fell in love with them when visiting a café that was in a greenhouse,” Carter says. “I felt how warm and inviting that space was and wanted to feel that in every space I walked into.”

Carter was working as a filmmaker and editor when a freelance gig took him to New Orleans. What he soaked up during his stint there inspired him to pivot to interior design, and when he returned to his home base in Baltimore, the first step was stocking up on houseplants. He has at least 300 in his home, as of last count.

Three years ago he started sharing his leafy escapades on Instagram—and quickly found a like-minded audience eager to follow along. “Instagram has provided a community for me to share my failures and successes with,” he notes. “I’ve worked hard to be a part of the community, and because of that I am where I am today.”

On June 22, Carter pops up in L.A. for a book-signing event at the LINE Hotel in Koreatown. He’ll be celebrating the release in the perfect setting: Openaire’s greenhouse-like dining room on the hotel’s roof. Carter and designer Sean Knibb, responsible for the plant-filled look of the LINE itself, will field your plant care questions and talk about the basics of indoor gardening.

Carter’s top tip for those new to going green? “Start by knowing exactly what direction your windows are facing and the type of light that is coming in,” he suggests. “Then do the research to find out what plants work well in that light.”

Hilton Carter on where to start when it comes to bringing plants into your home

From Wild at Home (CICO Books, 2019)

Finding your statement plant

The main aim when styling a room is to find your statement piece or even better, your statement plant. This statement plant is the one that has a particular look and sets the overall tone and feel of the room. It’s the one plant in a room that makes you or your guests take a moment to just stare and be fully taken by what’s in front of them. This plant will ask—no, demand—immediate attention. For me, my choice of statement plant has been influenced by a need to bring in plants with a tree-like shape. Think about it, how many people do you know that literally have a tree in their home? I know, exactly. There really is something special about that. To me, that’s what I call a statement. The statement plant introduces the “wow” factor because your guest will just stand there in awe and undoubtedly mouth, “Wow.” And isn’t that what all of us really want? To make our friends jealous of our plants? All joking aside, what you are really aiming to do—and what I personally take great joy in—is to leave your guests inspired. Your statement plant will undoubtedly be one that makes your guests leave your home wanting to have the same in theirs.

Form, shape, and scale

Selecting your statement plant will obviously be based on personal preference, the level of care you can give, and the environment you have in your home (that is, how much light and space there is). Once you’ve figured all this out, you’ll need to think about the form and size of the plant that will work best in your home.

I find plants such as Strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise), Ficus elastica (rubber plant), different types of palms, and the Ficus lyrata (fiddle-leaf fig) to be great choices for setting the tone or making that statement for you. The reason is simple. These plants can mature into really large specimens and live for generations. Beyond their overall size, however, the scale of their foliage is also crucial when transforming your home into an indoor jungle. The size of a bird of paradise leaf alone, for example, will immediately stop someone in their tracks.

The other reason why I love using plants such as these as a main feature is because they have shapes that work anywhere in a room without interrupting the flow. Given that most of them grow upward and outward, you don’t have to worry about them taking up too much floor space. For example, if you place a fiddle-leaf fig by your bed, you won’t be prevented from sleeping because of an invasive branch. As a result of its tree-like shape, the fig will grow above the bed, keeping the space below clear. You could achieve the same effect with similar tropical plants such as rubber plants and Swiss cheese plants—with each continuing that feeling of an indoor jungle throughout your home.

“Dress your plant

Now with all that said, you can’t just place a naked plant in your home. Have some humanity, dammit! You have to make sure your plant has the right dress or slacks—in other words, you need to find the right pot as its base. This is a package deal, a partnership, if you will. So finding the right pot to match your plant matters.

RELATED: These L.A. Plant Shops and Nurseries Will Help You Grow a Dreamy Home Jungle

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