Three local homeowners get all-new, Florida-friendly lawns thanks to the hit TV show Flip My Florida Yard
Smiling in Sanford
Italis and Manuel Ocampo occupy a slice of suburban paradise.
Their Sanford front lawn offers a visual feast of bee-attracting flowers in van Gogh colors of yellow, orange, and green. A small pedestrian bridge greets visitors, and a cobalt-blue birdbath makes for a striking visual contrast.
But it wasn’t always this way.
The Ocampos are one of three local couples chosen to be featured on Flip My Florida Yard, a gardening show that travels across the state to give front and back yards a makeover that is both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly.
When the Ocampos bought their home, the front yard was nothing but grass and weeds. When Italis introduced plants to the yard, they frequently died.
The newlyweds needed help.
They learned about the show through social media and discovered they were competing against 1,500 applicants for a spot. This season, 10 Florida homes were chosen for a makeover, including one in Oviedo and another in Maitland.
The three episodes aired in April on WRDQ-TV and can be streamed via the Discover Florida Channel app.
The show, created and hosted by Lake Mary’s Chad Crawford, is based on nine principles of landscaping developed by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), of which there is an office in Seminole County. Each of the show’s segments focuses on one or more of these principles, such as water conservation and attracting pollinators. The show is sponsored by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Each makeover is intense. Homeowners are sent to a state park for the day while a crew of some 30 people gather together to accomplish the makeover in just seven or eight hours.
“That’s the chaos and entertainment part of the show,” Chad says. He means, of course, a good kind of chaos.
The Ocampos made their bid to be part of the show with an audition video that Manuel shot and Italis narrated. It didn’t hurt that Italis has a showbiz background as a DJ for a Spanish radio station.
“They liked how bubbly we were,” she says.
After weeks of back-and-forth with the producers, Italis was in a break room at work when she got the news they were chosen.
“I screamed and started crying,” she says, laughing as she recalls how her coworkers outside wondered what was wrong.
On the day of their shoot, Italis and Manuel were scooted off to Wekiwa Springs State Park before the contracted landscaping crew began its work. Viewers of the show see them returning to their neighborhood and being escorted to their new yard, their eyes covered with goofy glasses.
Next comes the big reveal. They remove their glasses and shriek in delight while the work crew, neighbors, and family applaud.
Integral to the show is the involvement of UF/IFAS extension agents who are available year-round to help with anyone’s yard.
In the case of the Ocampos, Seminole County extension agent Tina McIntyre led the transformation.
“It was a blast,” Tina says. “The day of the shoot was such great energy. It was amazing to see the various teams working together.”
Having such a good time while also promoting an important Florida-friendly message, Tina says, “was a true highlight of my career.”
OMG in Oviedo
Boyd Lindsley and Michael Farmer of Oviedo were already inclined to go greener when they learned about Flip My Florida Yard.
They wanted a lawn that required a minimum amount of water, fertilizer, and maintenance.
They also wanted a little visual pizazz.
“It was pretty much a wasteland,” Boyd says of their pre-makeover lawn.
On top of that, a quite visible septic tank sat in the middle of the yard. Boyd even believes their home was chosen for Chad’s show because of the seriously septic eyesore.
Like the Ocampos, Boyd and Michael wanted an environment where birds, butterflies, and bees could thrive.
While the couple was scooted off to Hontoon Island State Park in DeLand, the crew in Oviedo went to work fixing the lawn’s many problems. They planted a variety of native Florida flora that now wraps around the septic tank and hugs the outer edge of much of the lawn, while stone pavers were stacked on top of each other to create a sense of dimension and depth.
The Oviedo makeover was so dramatic that Boyd and Michael felt adrenaline rushing through their veins as they got their first glimpse.
Shock and awe, you might say.
“Our yard has great movement now,” Boyd says. “It’s very lovely, and our neighbors have been impressed, as have we.”
Major Makeover in Maitland
Bonnie and Brian Lewis felt lost when they moved into their Maitland neighborhood. They were surrounded by gorgeous yards while theirs left much to be desired.
“When we bought the house, the yard was two palm trees and a lot of gravel,” Bonnie says. “People called it a parking lot.”
When the Flip My Florida Yard crew arrived to transform their parking lot, the Lewises were sent to Clermont’s Lake Louisa State Park for the day.
All homeowners in the series were free to make suggestions for their makeovers. Bonnie and Brian, however, chose to leave pretty much everything in the hands of the show’s landscape architect and designer Teresa Watkins.
“We thought the less we said,” Bonnie admits, “the better the yard would be.”
When they returned home from the park, they found a full garden of blooming plants that would lure butterflies, and a stone walkway with an artistic sculptural quality.
A local artist donated a “really cool bench,” Bonnie says, where their 12-year-old son loves to sit and snack on grapes and buffalo-sauce pretzels. “The whole thing was a huge surprise. It was so much more beautiful than we could have ever imagined.”
The Maitland project got a huge assist from Brooke Moffis, the UF/IFAS extension agent for Lake County. Brooke was especially pleased how the new yard’s hard geometric elements, such as a pathway of porcelain squares, contrasts with the winding flora around it.
“The human eye likes curving lines,” she says.
Give Your Own Yard a Flip
While UF/IFAS extension agents are available to give garden and landscaping advice to any local homeowner, they don’t have the luxury of personally visiting all the residents seeking help. Most of their consulting is done through phone, email, and Zoom.
So, for Orange County agent Tia Silvasy, it was a treat to take part in the Oviedo shoot.
“It was nice to be back in the field shoveling mulch,” Tia says.
Obviously, not all Floridians can benefit from a single-day makeover, but they can begin their journey in simple and inexpensive ways, says Tia. And they should keep in mind that plants prominently displayed in home-improvement stores are not necessarily the best for Florida’s climate.
Chad adds that a plant that seems healthy and vibrant on a display rack may whither once transplanted to a front or back yard.
“That plant has been pampered,” he says. “It freaks out because it is in this new, wild environment.”
Homeowners must be patient and learn what works and what does not, Chad adds.
He suggests enjoying the process as much as the end result. What’s more, toiling in a Florida-friendly yard or garden isn’t just good for nature – it’s good for the soul.
“You’re connecting with your yard, with other yards, with the earth,” says Chad. “No matter where you are, it’s all connected.”
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