Lisa Duncan and her family never spent time in their back yard. Sand spurs covered what was left of the grass. An old shed rusted in the corner.
The yard was so ugly, Duncan thought it should win an award.
This week, it did.
The St. Petersburg back yard won the Battle Your Blah Backyard Contest with HGTV host Justin Cave. The family got their first look at the $15,000 makeover on Tuesday.
"Oh, my gosh," screamed Duncan as she walked through the new gate with her husband, Marco Thayer, and daughters, Sarah, 10, and Serena, 20 months. "It's beautiful, I love it."
"I'm not even sure this is my back yard," gushed Sarah.
Crews spent three days transforming the Gateway-area yard along 18th Way N into an outdoor living area where the family can play together, have a cookout and grow a vegetable garden.
"The yard was in really bad shape beforehand," said Cave, who hosted HGTV's Ground Breakers for six seasons. "Not only is it usable and functional, but it feels good."
Cave and local contractors added a wooden privacy fence, sod, landscaping and a 500-square-foot brick-paved patio to the once barren yard. They planted Christmas Palms around the perimeter, colorful perennials and bushes, and Miscanthus grass to hide the A/C unit. In a shaded side yard, they laid the dirt for the garden.
All the furniture and accessories came from Wayfair, the online home goods retailer that put on the contest. Among the new items: a fire pit/coffee table with four lounge chairs, a dinette set, grill, hammock and Bocce ball set.
Duncan won out of more than 13,000 entries nationwide. Cave and the other judges found her story particularly compelling because her daughters had no place to play outside.
"When looking for the worst back yard in America, competition was pretty tough," Cave said. "But we decided they were really deserving of it."
The family had intended to redo their yard until Duncan lost her job as an IT analyst a few years ago. Duncan was 20 weeks pregnant with her second daughter when doctors put her on bed rest. Two days before giving birth, she was let go and hasn't found work since.
Duncan was shopping online for a wok earlier this year when she saw the contest seeking ugly back yards and decided to apply. She wrote how her girls don't have much room to play in their 950-square-foot home and can't go out in the front yard because of the traffic.
"I would love to be able to let them go outside to play safely in a fenced-in back yard," she said. "There is nothing more calming than sitting outside watching my girls play, seeing them laugh and run freely."
Duncan couldn't believe it when she won. Maybe losing her job wasn't all that bad. "If that hadn't happened, we wouldn't have happened," she said at this week's reveal.
She looked forward to reading in her hammock, getting an outdoor playhouse for her daughters and entertaining family and friends.
Said her husband: "We would never have been able to do this on our own."