You Grow, Girl: Volunteers Help Orange County Homeowners Create Florida-Friendly Landscapes

Community & Services

When Orlando resident Phyllis Stopford, 79, decided to sign up for the UF/IFAS Extension Orange County Master Gardener Volunteer Program thirteen years ago, it was a natural progression. A fourth-generation Floridian who grew up on the Nature Coast, she always appreciated the state’s pristine beauty. As she got older, she became interested in plants, so the program fit her desire to help homeowners landscape their yards with Florida native and Florida-Friendly plants.

“Since going through the program, I’ve redefined what’s beautiful in a yard, which are not necessarily the most colorful plants, but the ones most beneficial to the local environment,” explained Stopford, who has been volunteering for 12 years. “I educate people about native plants versus invasive plants, which are very harmful to our environment.”

For 40 years, the UF/IFAS Extension Orange County Master Gardener Volunteer Program has been assisting homeowners with their gardens. The volunteer-based program involves more than 70 hours of education that encompasses all areas of horticulture. Once certified, volunteers pledge to donate at least 75 hours of service during the following year, with most of the time on the phone answering homeowners’ questions. Other volunteer activities include maintaining demonstration gardens, testing soil pH, teaching classes and helping to run larger programs.

Stopford can sometimes be found at any of the Extension’s three diagnostic plant clinics, where homeowners come to get advice. You can also find her in one of the Extension’s demonstration gardens, where she will gladly point out the ideal plants for nectar and pollen and also advise that you need plant diversity and layers in order to attract butterflies and bees.

She is also the lead gardener for the Volunteers holding Florida-friendly plants. Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Demo Garden at the Orange County Administration Building in downtown Orlando. The garden, which is open to the public and helps homeowners see how they can have a native plant pallet in their own backyard, recently received an upgrade thanks to a Florida Wildflower Foundation grant.

“We were able to purchase additional native plants, which have made the garden lusher and have already attracted more native insects,” said Stopford. “Native plants are critical because they’re pollinator powerhouses. We have more than 300 native bee species in Florida, and native plants support their population, plus help with stormwater runoff, ground erosion and more.”

For Stopford, the most enjoyable part of volunteering has been getting to meet and be mentored by others involved in the program. “Gardeners are good people, and what we do is beneficial to the environment,” she asserted. “I’m constantly learning, and helping homeowners is incredibly satisfying.”

If you are interested in getting involved in the Master Gardener Volunteer Program, contact John Roberts, Ph.D., Program Coordinator, at  Master Gardener Coordinator. To learn more about the benefits of Florida native and Florida-Friendly plants, go to the UF/IFAS Extension website.

Photo cutline: Phyllis Stopford, a UF/IFAS Extension Orange County Master Gardener Volunteer, standing in front of the Orange County Admin Building’s Florida-friendly garden.

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