Hilton Carter makes life beautiful by injecting a healthy dose of greenery into it. The plant specialist not only styles client’s homes by incorporating potted plants into the design, but he also makes the task accessible to the masses through three best-selling books—Wild at Home: How to style and care for beautiful plants, Wild Interiors: Beautiful plants in beautiful spaces, and Wild Creations. Hilton has partnered with Target on the collection Hilton Carter for Target, released a workshop series with the Magnolia Network, and most recently opened his first brick-and-mortar plant shop—green neighbor—in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. To say he’s been busy is an understatement. We sat down with the ultimate green thumb to find out what inspires him, what led him to where he is today, and what we can do to bring the holidays into our homes through living plants. Follow along below and on Hilton’s Instagram, @hiltoncarter.
What was your first job?
While in middle school, I would sell drawings I did of cartoon characters, R&B singers, and sporting teams to my classmates. It proved to me early on that I could make money as an artist if I put my heart behind what I was making.
Tell us about your journey into the creative industry.
After getting an MFA in film, I decided I would work as a freelance director, creating commercials, music videos, and short films. I then made my way into working for an ad agency where I lead the video production team, working on commercials for various brands. It was there that I figured out that I needed to put more of my energy into something I loved, so on my weekends and days off I started planning my new life as an interior/plant stylist. I would work at my day job from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and then spend a few hours before and after that working on my side hustle. It wasn’t until I got my first book deal that I thought I could turn my passion into a full-time career.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I wouldn’t—every misstep and every achievement led me to where I am today. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Where do you find the most inspiration for your work?
When working with plants in an interior space, I let the colors, textures, and shapes in the space guide me on the types of plants I style with.
What does your creative process look like?
If styling a client’s space with plants, I’ll first do a walkthrough and take note of where all the light is coming from, as well as the color palette. I’ll then get an idea of the client’s style. I take measurements and sketch out what I think will work best for the job. I’ll figure out the plants, the right planters, and any other accessories that might be needed to make the space come to life.
You have three books. Tell me about the process of bringing those to life.
Oh, it was all stressful but the best kind of stress. It’s a motivator. My goal when making a book is to give the reader a peek into my process. Making sure that comes across visually is just as important as the written content. When I take pictures for the books, I do my very best to make sure they are impactful. Writing can be a lonely job. It can be difficult to get something down when staring at a blank page. To help myself get moving, I will use the dictation feature in the Notes app on my phone, and whenever I’m walking my dog or just have a little free time, I’ll just start talking into my phone and will then take those notes and edit them later. This has been my process for all three of my books.
When was the last time you thought “wow, I can’t believe I just accomplished that!”
My last Target collection was that moment for me. I still can’t believe that happened. I only hope I might get that opportunity again.
Which upcoming project or endeavor are you most excited for?
I have a new series of workshops coming out on Magnolia Network this winter. I’m really excited for everyone to see that. I’ve also recently opened a plant shop, green neighbor, in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, and I’m excited for what’s to come there.
Can you share some tips on incorporating the holidays into your home through greenery?
Here are my top five favorite plants for the holiday season. The Christmas Cactus is a low-maintenance plant that blooms during the winter months, making it an extra pop of color for the holiday season. The Norfolk Pine is a beautiful tree that is easy to care for and is the perfect houseplant to decorate for the holidays if you’re not into the traditional holiday trees. The Marble Queen Pothos has beautiful white and green variegated leaves. It’s a great hanging plant to have indoors for the holidays because it’ll mimic fresh snowfall on the greenery outdoors. Forget the Poinsettias, the Stromanthe Triostar has the perfect pop of holiday color and will provide that look far past the holiday season. Lastly, the Bird of Paradise is a large tropical plant that will bring reminders of warmth and vacation when it’s cold and gray outside.
How has becoming a father changed you?
There is no greater motivator than looking into the eyes of your child. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been more exhausted in my life, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
“My daughter pushes me to be great because I want her to see what comes from hard work, creativity, and love.”
– Hilton Carter
Is there one piece of advice that resonates with you still today?
A friend told me, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time.” I think I’ll keep having the time of my life until there is no more life to be had.
Our tagline for Studio McGee is, “Make Life Beautiful.” How do you do that for yourself and for your clients?
Bringing plants into my home and the spaces of my clients makes these spaces beautiful. I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to work on making life more full, lush, and beautiful.
What’s one thing you do every morning when you wake up?
I make coffee first thing. I’ll then take about 15 minutes and sit in the darkness and get my mind and heart ready for the day.
Give us one plant for beginners to introduce into their home.
A ZZ plant because its forgiving, low-light tolerant, and can be styled in various spots in the home.