Born: Dec. 14, 1939
Background/significance: “I am a man named Pearl, and this is my garden.” That line from the documentary about Bishopville’s Pearl Fryar welcomes us all into Fryar’s garden and his life.
Born to North Carolina sharecroppers, Fryar attended North Carolina College (now NC Central) in the late 1950s and early 1960s before joining the military and serving in Korea. He worked in private industry for years, living as far away as New York and California before he settled in Bishopville.
Fryar started his garden in the 1980s with a goal of winning Bishopville’s “Yard of the Month” prize. He bought a neighboring cornfield and a few plants that a local nursery considered practically dead, and he took a brief lesson on how to trim hedges.
Today, his three-acre garden is the highlight of any visit to the small town famed for its annual Cotton Festival. Because it is a living sculpture, the garden, which includes pieces that look like they walked out of a Dr. Seuss book, is always changing from season to season and year to year.
Fryar still works in his garden sculpting plants and has added a collection of pieces he calls junk art.
“The best thing about junk art is that when you finish a piece, you’re finished,” Fryar says. “You’re not back pruning in two or three weeks.”
Fryar has exhibited at the South Carolina State Museum, and his gardens are being preserved by the Garden Conservancy. Oh, and his original goal — he became the first African-American resident to win Bishopville’s Yard of the Month.
South Carolina connection: Fryar has lived in Bishopville for many years and his efforts to win the town’s “Yard of the Month” designation led him to create his magnificent fanciful gardens in an old cornfield. Though his work has gained him much fame, he still lives next door to his creation in the small South Carolina town. Some days, he even gives visitors a guided tour.
The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden is located at 145 Broad Acres Road in Bishopville and is open to visitors 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday year-round. Parking is available across the street. The gardens are free to stroll through, but donations are accepted. www.pearlfryar.com
The 1964 Desegregation Commemoration Gardenat the University of South Carolina in Columbia includes topiaries by Fryar that were installed and dedicated in the spring of 2014 as part of the university’s year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of its desegregation. The garden is located inside the walls of the university’s historic Horseshoe near Pendleton and Bull streets and adjacent to the Osborne Administration Building. It is always open and there is no admission charge. Street parking is available. http://www.sc.edu/uofsc/stories/2014/04_desegregation_commemoration_topiary_garden.php
The documentary film “A Man Named Pearl” is available on some Internet subscription sites. See a film clip here:
National Geographic also visited Fryar’s gardens: http://www.pearlfryar.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=119:new-article&cated=8:latest-news.