When designer Hilton Carter furnished the industrial-style Baltimore apartment and work studio he shares with his wife Fiona, their dog Charlie and two cats Zoe and Isabella, he created, in effect, a wondrous indoor woodland that offers all the benefits of being outdoors without leaving home.
"I wanted to create the feeling that nature has crept back in and taken over everything," says Carter, describing their plant-filled abode. The author of Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beautiful Plants explains, "I have a lot of climbing plants because I like that, no matter what, they're going to attach and find their way up. It's life. That's what it does. I love those photographs you see of old, abandoned buildings with greenery everywhere, and there's even a tree growing through the middle. I want to live in that space. It's exciting—you don't know if you're inside or outside, but you're home."
"You don’t know if you’re inside or outside, but you’re home."
We recently caught up with the plant-loving designer and found out all there is to know about living wild.
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What inspired you to start your at-home jungle?
Back in 2011, I visited a cafe in Pennsylvania that was inside a greenhouse. I saw how it transformed the space and how at peace I felt while dining there. I knew instantly that when I had the time and a space with the right light and ceiling height, I would jungle-fy my home.
How long did it take you to fill your apartment with plants, and was there a process you followed?
I've been bringing plants into my home for the past 6 years. If there was [available] light and I had time to care for another one, I'd bring it home. Now we've reached our limit, so no new plants for us. Well, unless we can get our hands on a Raven ZZ plant. It has these really cool dark purple, almost black, leaves.
How much time do you spend caring for your plants, and what do you have to do to maintain them?
I spend about three or four hours a week watering, wiping down leaves, rooting and talking to my plants.
What is your best advice in terms of how to achieve this kind of indoor lushness?
The only way is to do the work. For me, setting calendar alerts on my phone to remind myself when to water has helped tremendously. Also, it's important to stay involved in what's happening with each plant. You've to note when an issue has occurred and figure out why. Finally, never place your plants in hard-to-get-to places. You can take better care of them when they're easy to reach. Don't tuck a plant behind a couch you've to move every time you water or don't hang one up high so you need a ladder to reach it. Set yourself up for success, not failure.
How would you advise a novice to begin a jungle?
Someone who's green to greenery should start by doing a little research about what plants will work with the type of light they've in their home. You might think that because you travel a lot, you should have cacti because they don't need to be watered often. But if you've a dark apartment, cacti won't work because they need a ton of sunlight. And if you live in Arizona and your home is hot and dry and filled with sunlight, then a fern isn't going to work for you because they need a cooler temperature to thrive. You've to be self-aware and honest about what kind of plant parent you're likely to be and how much time you have or are willing to spend weekly caring for your plants.
Why did you create a living wall in addition to placing potted plants?
Our living wall came about when my wife and I were first thinking of moving into this space. I knew I wanted a green wall, but my wife knew doing it the traditional way was out of our budget. I'd already been propagating in test tubes and thought of using the method on our wall. I designed holders I call cradles and had 16 of them manufactured for the wall. We now have 66 various cuttings from plants we clipped on our travels. The test tubes and cradles work so well that I made more to sell on my website. The best is that when visitors come over, they can leave with a cutting right from the wall. Propagating is what made me so excited when I first got into plants. Taking a cutting from its mother plant, placing it in water, and watching roots develop is so satisfying. And propagating is what allowed us to increase our plant family. It's cheaper than going out and purchasing a new plant every other week. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
What design elements complement a plant-filled interior?
There's something about green foliage against stone, wood, and woven pieces. Maybe I like having the feeling that everything is part of nature.
How do you style this many plants in an apartment or home?
When you've limited space, you've to get creative. That means using vertical and not just horizontal space. In our bedroom, I decided it would be awesome to hang a plant over our bed. I convinced my wife Fiona to weave a hammock-like holder. You can also collect cool ceramic and woven pots.
Why are we now seeing more greenery in interior design?
I think designers are aware that these days everyone is trying to connect with nature in some sort of way.
What are your favorite plants and why?
My favorite plant in our home is Frank, our fiddle-leaf fig, because he was the first plant I purchased and the one that has been through the most with me. My second favorite is all the rest because you don't want to make any of them feel bad. Okay, fine. Don't tell them I said this, but my second favorite is our rubber tree, Rubbs McGee. You must keep that between us.
What are the benefits of living with indoor greenery?
When you enter a green-filled space, you instantly feel a change in air quality. Plants clean the air and provide oxygen. They've also been proven to help reduce stress, which for me has been a huge benefit. Watering and caring for my plants is time I find so therapeutic. It's my meditation. And lastly, living with plants just makes you feel like you're on a year-round vacation. It's honestly the best kind of glamping.