Leonardo da Vinci is alive and well and living in Bishopville, SC.
Just a mile from Interstate 20 near the heart of South Carolina there is a living topiary art sculpture garden created by Pearl Fryar. The topiary that resides here along with Fryer and his family is extraordinary and still challenges the minds of horticulture experts who claim that these plants aren’t supposed to be able to look like they do.
The mission of the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, Inc. is to “support and preserve the artistic and horticultural legacy of Pearl Fryar, to encourage public appreciation of the garden, and to provide opportunities for artistic and educational enrichment and enjoyment.”
Born outside Clinton, NC in 1939, Pearl Fryer and his family settled in Bishopville in the late 1970s. When he purchased the property, it had been an old corn field. He built his home and decided to design a garden so he could win “Yard of the Month”. Unfortunately, he lived just outside the city limits so was told he was not eligible.
Undeterred, Fryer kept looking for something unique for his new garden. He found it a short drive away in Camden. A local plant nursery had some topiary for sale and Pearl asked him how they were created. So the owner gave Fryer a three minute lesson and the rest is history. From that brief study, he went back home and with every spare moment in his time off from work at the local aluminum can factory he created topiary. An amazing feat considering he did not even know the meaning of the word until that lesson.
Webster’s dictionary defines topiary as “of, relating to, or being the practice or art of training, cutting, and trimming trees or shrubs into odd or ornamental shapes.” Creating topiary takes time, patience, commitment, and creativity. Some of the trees in Fryer’s garden have been 20 years in the making. He has taken this art form to new levels and from its humble beginnings his garden is now known world-wide, attracting over 10,000 visitors annually.
I have personally visited Pearl Fryer’s garden of surreal trees and shrubs on several occasions. My first visit was on October 14, 2011, the first anniversary of my Mom’s passing. Mom and I had watched the documentary, “A Man Named Pearl”, on our local PBS station several months before she died, and neither one of us knew of his garden before then. We decided to go and visit. Sadly, Mom passed away before we could see Pearl’s garden together.
So on a sunny autumn day, I drove from my home in Camden to Bishopville, and stopped for lunch at the local Waffle House. Complete with Pearl’s signature style topiary outside the front of the restaurant and a “Mr. Pearl Special” on the menu, it was a good start to a memorable afternoon.
I will always remember my original impression of this amazing garden. Located on a short and quiet side street of the main road entering Bishopville, the garden sits on the left side of the road and a bank of pine trees lends shade and depth at the back of the property. There are two distinct areas of this garden. Fryer’s brick ranch house stands on the right side of the property, and an archway leads visitors to the left side of the property.
It was through this archway that I stepped onto Fryer’s garden for the first time. In life-sized letters cut into the grass and planted with red begonias were the words “Love, Peace and Goodwill”. I felt like I had come home and tears filled my eyes and my heart began to heal from grief. There is a spiritual awakening that one feels upon stepping into this sacred space created by the union of a humble man of God and the plants that he communes with each day.
Always the consummate host, Fryer has the innate ability to make all of his guests feel welcomed and special. Like the gift he shares with his plant family, he is a true ambassador for his craft. He had no guild to teach him his art, and yet he still became a master. His legacy are international and lasting.
To learn more about the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden and view photographs of Fryer’s extraordinary topiary sculptures visit http://www.pearlfryar.comby