Monday, May 16, 2011

Field Trip: Pearl Fryar's Topiary Garden

While on our OBX excursion last week, Albert (my hubby) and I stopped by Bishopville, South Carolina. A few weeks ago, we watched a documentary movie called A Man Named Pearl (it's available on Netflix if anyone is interested). I have never seen my husband so excited about art before!

A Man Named Pearl is a documentary about Pearl Fryar, an African American man who moved into a dominantly white town. People told him that they didn't want him in their neighborhoods because black people "don't keep their yards up". This made him come up with an idea.

A panoramic photo of Pearl's garden and house

About 30 years ago, Pearl began sculpting his garden, in his backyard. With a vision and a lot of patience (it takes a plant about 5 years to retain a shape), Pearl's topiary garden is now visited by "at least 500 people on a Saturday, and 100 people on other days" (his own words). He beams when he talks about how he gets daily visitors from California and Florida. On our second visit (it was raining the first time we went), we were followed by a large tour bus that dumped at least 50 people out when we arrived.

Pearl Fryar addressing visitors at his garden

Pearl never took a gardening class, minus a 3 minute introduction at a local nursery. He used to take plants left for dead out of the garbage behind plant stores so that he could restore them to health. One that he pointed out to us was now over 5 feet tall, and was once left for dead.

Pearl demonstrating how he got the shape of this plant

Even while working a full time job, he would come home and work until late hours in the morning, preening and shearing his garden. He told us that he would never cut a plant above 6 feet tall, since that's as high as his ladder allows. Recently, however, he acquired a cherry picker and can reach any height that he wants in order to cut his plants.

His garden is an amazing wonderland of plants and sculptures. He prides himself on his themed trees, too, including the [ceramic] pot plant, and the tree filled with birdhouses.

One of Pearl's sculptures: "Hate Hurts" on one side, "Love & Unity" on the other

a fountain

the birdhouse tree

Pearl also gives talks at South Carolinian colleges, telling students that, "you can do whatever you want to do, and as long as you are passionate, you will be successful."

When you drive through Bishopville, you can't help but notice it's unique topiaries. The Waffle House just off the interstate has one of Pearl's works in front of it, and the waitresses are so grateful that they give Pearl and his wife a free meal each time they go- which is every day.

Downtown Bishopville would be pretty dull without Pearl's topiaries, too. The Bishopville Chamber of Commerce had Pearl install some sculptures downtown to bring in visitors.

Downtown Bishopville

It was a real treat to be able to visit this visionary, and it might even become a staple on our annual outer banks trips. If you're ever traveling on I-20 through South Carolina, be sure to stop by and say hello. You'll be glad you did!

An elephant!
My personal favorite piece^

Oak trees

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