Oprah's Block Party
"Good morning, neighbors. Could you please come out to the balcony?" Oprah announced through a bullhorn as she stood on a cherry picker. "Good morning, I'm Oprah. I'm your neighbor across the street. And because it's spring—you know it takes us a long time to get spring in Chicago—I wanted to do a nice thing for my neighbors. So in the next few days, I've called an expert in to do your balconies!"
Known for his ambush garden makeovers, Jamie has millions of fans, a book of his design influences titled Inspired, and he has even competed on Australia's version of Dancing with the Stars.
Jamie's mission is not just to transform ordinary balconies into something special, but also into something personal. "The garden has to suit the personality of the owner," he says. "That's so important because you have to take ownership of it."
John, who currently has just a propane tank on his balcony, would like to transform his space into a place to play Scrabble with his girlfriend. Karen's balcony is decorated with Christmas lights...in the middle of May. James likes playing his guitar on his balcony at sunset, but his deck floor is full of holes. Anna and Nicholas dream of an herb garden.
"The goal for this project was basically to get these guys to use their space as another room in their house ... rather than just a tack-on," Jamie says.
"We claimed ownership over it by putting plants along the edge of the balcony," Jamie says. "Some nice furnishings and some beautiful plants and give yourself some privacy, and you feel like you're in an intimate, private space that is your own."
It's time for the real test. What do the neighbors think?
"This is amazing," James says. "It's as functional as it is beautiful."
"I had a smile all night," Tom says. "My face was sore from smiling the whole day."
"I can't stay off the balcony. I go out there in the morning to have tea, and we go out there at night with a glass of wine," Anna says. "It's just wonderful. It's become part of our life now."
Jamie's balcony designs even inspired these 12 condo owners to pay it forward to their other neighbors. "We all decided what we should do is have a balcony crawl so we can all experience the balconies and let other people in the building come into the units and see the balconies," Russell says.
And so the rest of the neighbors who live in the other 170 condos in the building don't feel left out, they're getting gift cards from Lowe's so they can beautify their balconies, too!
First, start with a simple wooden box and cover it with a sheet of copper. "This will give it that lovely green patina," he says.
Then, after putting down a base of soil, add a spillover plant like a bacopa. But don't get hung up on what your plants are called. "I often tell people buy plants with shapes first, names second," Jamie says.
After the spillover bacopa is in place, Jamie arranges pretty flowers in the box. Here, he uses white volcano phlox and pink geraniums. Then Jamie adds sphagnum moss. This will absorb nutrients in water and keep the soil moist, which is important for flower boxes that are regularly exposed to sunny and windy conditions.
Last, fill in any holes with more soil, and you're ready to hang your summer window box...just don't forget to water the plants.
Jamie suggests drought-resistant plants to people who travel a lot. One of Jamie's favorites is an air plant called tillandsia. This variety can live for up to six months with no water or soil. All you need is a little sphagnum moss in the bottom of a bowl, and you've got greenery.
"It's a gorgeous little thing," Jamie says.
Another plant that requires very little care is the vermiliad, which is a rain forest species that's used to growing in the shade. Jamie says this is the perfect indoor plant. "They hold water in the base," Jamie says. "They're like camels."
For something a little larger, try a sansevieria plant—commonly known as the "mother-in-law's tongue." If you're going away on an extended vacation, Jamie says you can leave this plant outside for months and it will survive on its own.
If you love roses but hate tending to thorny bushes, Jamie suggests a variety called Flower Carpet roses. These vibrant blooms have the same beautiful form, and the bush is disease-resistant. "It really does look after itself," he says.
Find out what's included in this gardening kit!
"I think everybody should have a little garden, no matter where you live," Oprah says. "Having green things around you changes the way you feel."
Whether you have a yard, a terrace or just a window box, a little soil and a few seeds can transform a concrete jungle into your very own Garden of Eden!