Renowned Topiary Artist in Bishopville, South Carolina.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Since the 1980s, Pearl Fryar has been crafting topiary at his garden in Bishopville, South Carolina. Feats of artistry and horticulture, his living sculptures have garnered national attention. The documentary “A Man Named Pearl” was widely released in 2006 to critical acclaim and has aired on national television. He has appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, the Martha Stewart Show, starred in a John Deere commercial and is frequently invited to speak about his work.
Pearl Fryar was born in North Carolina, attended North Carolina College, served in the U.S. Army, and lived and worked for several years in New York before moving to South Carolina.
The yard at his new home was a blank slate when Pearl decided that he wanted to win “Yard of the Month” from the local garden club. Turns out, he wasn’t eligible for that prize, but he forged ahead to realize his grand plans anyway, ultimately creating an extraordinary topiary garden that has garnered awards and accolades that exceeded his aspirations.
Many of the plants in Pearl’s garden were rescued from the compost pile at local nurseries. They are joined by his “junk art” metal sculptures.
When we recently toured his garden he strolled over to greet us and talk briefly about his motivations. At 76, he’s eager to share his wisdom.
What inspired this garden?
The story behind the garden is this: I moved here from New York with the company I worked for in New York, they did a start-up operation here. I decided to stay in 1980 because it’s 150 miles from my original home in North Carolina. So I bought this property and it was a cornfield, I had to wait until they harvested the corn to have a house built.
I decided to do the garden from a creative point of view because as a kid growing up I was punished for it. I went to college, but my talent didn’t show up on my test scores. But at age 40, I could afford my talent so I decided to do the garden from a creative point of view and use recycled plants.
Over the years I’ve created this garden and it did get a tremendous amount of publicity because I’m the only person in the world that does this style of topiary.
I speak at a lot of universities and one of the things I talk to students about is, ‘Don’t allow someone to tell you what you can and can’t do.’ Because what you do well might never show up on a test score. You may be average academically and very talented in some other area.
In the final analysis success is about three things: work, passion and marketing.
No matter how good you are at what you do, your success is going to be determined how well you market what you do—not your PhD or whatever. So today because of my talent I am able to give scholarships to C students. These students must go to a junior college, community college or tech. It is about educating from the bottom up instead of educating from the top down. The moment we become serious about poverty and crime, we’ll educate from the bottom up. We’ve got to find the resources to make sure these students who are falling through the cracks will have the financial resources to develop their talent. That’s what my garden is about; it’s why the garden is here.
And I did it with talent.
The art world looks at this work as living sculpture.
No matter what you do in life, no matter how much education you acquire, as long as you work from a book you’re never going to get credit for what you do because the person who wrote the book has already gotten credit for that. The moment you take what you was taught and cross it with what you do well you become a master. That’s it. That’s why you get a Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, Oprah Winfrey. Don’t allow education to box you in. That’s it. Lot of kids get an education but never do what they would do well.
Pearl Fryer Topiary Garden
145 Broad Acres Rd.
I-20 to Exit 116, north on Hwy 15 one mile, left on Broad Acres Rd. Pearl’s three-acre garden is open to visitors Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no admission charge but donations are accepted.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC