Plant Stylist Hilton Carter's Best Advice for Decorating with Houseplants

Lauren Wicks
·6 min read
Photo credit: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2021
Photo credit: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2021

Plant stylist Hilton Carter is known for his lush, wild interiors filled with verdant greenery that have earned him nearly half-a-million Instagram followers, the cover of Vogue Italia, and three books—the most recent of which debuted earlier this month. Wild Creations was a passion project of Carter's during the pandemic, as he was determined to bring devoted plant enthusiasts new ways to get creative with their favorite varieties while at home—while keeping himself inspired along the way.

"I was supposed to be on a book tour, and once the pandemic hit, we had to quarantine instead and I wanted to find something to do with my time," says Carter. "My wife and I spent a few weeks doing puzzles, which we would have never done otherwise, and then I realized that if this is where we are still a year later, I want to give people away to use their creative bones to actually do something meaningful by utilizing what they already have at home."

Photo credit: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2021
Photo credit: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2021

Wild Creations is filled with DIY projects to bring plants to the forefront of your interior design, brilliant houseplant hacks learned from seven years of investing in and caring for his own plants (along with sage advice from fellow plant-loving friends and family), and an abundance of tips for proper houseplant care to ensure your flora remains vibrant and beautiful for years on end.

Carter's Favorite Indoor Plants to Decorate With

Photo credit: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2021
Photo credit: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2021

"Right now I'm a huge fan of the Australian tree fern; it's a throwback tropical plant that instantly says the four-letter word I love most: wild," says Carter. "If you go to any tropical spaces, you'll find them, and I talk about the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston in the book where those large Australian Tree Ferns makes their indoor garden so beautiful. You might not be able to find it so easily in your local shop, and if you do, it will be pricey. But it's one of those statement plants and will transform any space." Carter views these more hard-to-find indoor plants like well-collected pieces of home decor in themselves, so they are worth the investment of money—and time—to bring beauty and a sense of wildness to your interiors.

Carter also loves the Philodenron 'Xanadu' with its lush, finger-like foliage that can can grow wide and bushy. The plant stylist featured these plants in his viral-hit plant hammock creation and says they look lovely mounted on a wall or propped off the floor in a planter.

"If we're talking the top designer plant of 2021 though, I think the Philodendron Birkin will be one of the top plants for this year because it has really lovely foliage and grows a beautiful white leaf that unfurls and slowly transforms into a lighter shade of green," says Carter. "Plus, it isn't terribly difficult to take care of. "

For those that don't have the enviable natural light Carter has in his Baltimore apartment (the book was shot entirely in his home by Carter himself!), he suggests decorating with low-light plants like Sansevierias (snake plants), ZZ plants, Rattlesnake Calathea, Dumb Dane, any variety of Pothos, or certain varieties of Yucca plants.

Ideas for Decorating with Houseplants

Photo credit: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2021
Photo credit: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2021

Carter's latest book is filled with brilliant ideas for upping your home decor game through houseplants—and there's something for every type of plant parent. His ideas go beyond curating a few favorite plants on a windowsill or in a corner of your living room and instead putting them front-and-center in a space. Some of our favorite ideas from the book begin with getting your plants on the wall—or hanging them from the ceiling.

Several of the projects featured in the book are all about creating "living art," the first by designing a wall-mounted plant that will fit in with your collection of favorite framed botanicals and memories from beloved getaways. Carter recommends using mountable plants like staghorn ferns, Philodendron, or Hoya to get the look and opting for a patina-ed wooden board or piece of driftwood to create a truly special piece that can stand on its own against your beautiful art collection. If that feels like a little too much effort, creating his preserved moss wall art project is a soothing way to spend the afternoon and an excellent way to boost biophilic living in your home. Preserved moss doesn't need any water or light, so once you've created and attached your design to a foam board and framed it, this living piece of art requires as little care as your favorite watercolor.

Another favorite is creating a plant "chandelier," shown in the image above. You can work with a carpenter to create (or a designer to track down) the perfect vessel—or discover one yourself—to then fit with various like-minded plants. Carter opted for tropical varieties like Monstera deliciosa and Philodendron bipinnatifidum for his own chandelier.

And if all these ideas seem a little too "wild" for you, Carter's book is filled with simpler design tips that still pack a big design punch. For example, you can instantly level up your houseplant's appeal by covering up the soil and styling the top of the pot. Carter especially loves using small stones and moss to adorn the top of the potting soil to create more visual interest. He also loves to combine multiple like-minded plants into one beautiful pot to create layers and bring various hues of green into one small area.

Carter also offers advice for which planters to use with specific plants. He is extremely selective about the planters he chooses and loves to work with his favorite ceramicists to find the perfect vessels for his asparagus ferns. He advises styling the ever-popular Fiddle-leaf fig in concrete or stone planters while using clay or terracotta planters for snake plants, cacti, and ponytail palm.

Making Houseplant Care Infinitely Easier

Photo credit: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2021
Photo credit: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2021

Carter stresses that while his first two books are for newbies and veteran green thumbs alike, this book is more for those ready to really invest in both their home and houseplants, even if they don't own more than 200 houseplants like himself.

"At the end of the day, while trying to find the fun of creative the projects in the book, I wish everyone would know the importance of caring for the plants they are working with and start there before doing the 'creating.'" says Carter. "A lot of the projects utilize living plants, so it will be a waste of time if you'll just have an empty vessel for your chandelier. Prioritize care first, understanding the type of light they have and what they need to be properly cared for."

Luckily, chapters two and three of Wild Creations are all about offering "wild hacks" and "wild rants" to help one best care for their beloved houseplants. One of the tips he stresses most is getting a "plant sitter" for when you go out of town to ensure they don't lose their luster—and your hard work caring for them isn't thwarted. And while you can't change the amount of natural light you have in your home, Carter explains light's ultimate power to make your plants vibrant, take shape, and help flowering plants bloom. He advises finding the right spot light-wise to then determine the right place to style a verdant vignette.

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