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Pearl Fryar's Topiary Garden.
Otherworldly trees and shrubs, courtesy of Pearl and his busy clippers.

Pearl Fryar's Topiary Garden

Field review by the editors.

Bishopville, South Carolina

Pearl Fryar's hedge trimmer buzzes in the steamy morning air. "If I could paint," he said, pointing to cypress tree that resembles a boned fish, "that would be on a canvas." Pearl affectionately refers to the fish-tree, which he shaped himself, as "Monster."

Pearl Fryar.

Pearl was already in his forties when he moved into a new home in Bishopville in 1981. That's when a switch flipped in his brain, and he unexpectedly became interested in topiary. "I never had a garden, never owned a house, never done anything like this," Pearl said. "When I moved here I had free time with nothing to do. So I just started cutting up bushes."

It was a bit more involved than that. Pearl's acreage at the time was just a barren former corn field. All of his shrubs and trees -- around 500 by his count -- were moved here by Pearl, most of them rescued from the compost piles of local nurseries. Pearl would come home from his day job at a local can factory, fire up his hedge trimmer, and cut bushes until after dark. His goal, he said, was to have his garden named "Yard of the Month" by Bishopville's Iris Garden Club. That took four years of work. Satisfied, Pearl kept going.

Pearl's art keeps growing, so Pearl can never stop.

Every topiary arch and spiral and notched pyramid now in Pearl's three-acre yard has taken decades of his relentless clipping, each plant changing shape very, very slowly, always under Pearl's control. The work never ends because if it did, the plants would quickly grow out and look messy. Pearl is constantly battling nature, bending it to his will, and he's comfortable stretching time beyond the limits of when most people would crack.

House no. 165.

The garden is free (donations are appreciated), and Pearl is always happy to take a break and talk. He has no love for traditional topiary -- the decorative shaping of plants into recognizable shapes -- which he dismisses as "animals and teapots." Instead, Pearl creates foliage forms never before seen on this planet. Junipers are pruned into surrealist waves and corkscrews, holly bushes become velvety totems and sci-fi octopi. Pearl's "Love, Peace & Goodwill" in eight-foot-high letters is sincere, but his topiary's weird geometry reminded us of Lovecraft; if the garden weren't so green and natural it would be eerie. We saw no yew Cthulhu, but we didn't want to look too closely....

Just about the worst thing that a visitor can call Pearl's garden is "pretty." He points out that those same visitors wouldn't call sculpture in an art gallery "pretty." Pearl views his radically modified plants as sculptures, and he's not alone; everyone from the Smithsonian to National Geographic has praised his work as high art. Pearl ran through a list of his corporate sponsors for us, noting that their endorsements increase the odds that his garden will outlive him. "I was born in 1940," he said. "How much longer am I gonna be at this?"

Love, Peace and Goodwill.
Bird's eye view of Pearl's message to humankind.

Academics and critics have invested much meaning into Pearl's garden, including the popular notion that it's a lesson in patience, vital for a generation that expects instant gratification. Pearl shrugs off broad interpretations. "What this is," he said, "is something really different. You would never expect to see plants cut up like this. You wouldn't be here if I was just cutting up animals and teapots."

Pearl Fryar's Topiary Garden

165 Broad Acres Rd, Bishopville, SC
I-20 exit 116. North on US Hwy 15 one-half mile, then left at Pearl Fryar sign onto Broad Acres Rd.
T-Sa 10-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Free (donations welcome)
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Lizard Man SandwichesLizard Man Sandwiches, Bishopville, SC - < 1 mi.
Cotton Museum: Lizard Man!Cotton Museum: Lizard Man!, Bishopville, SC - 2 mi.
Button King MuseumButton King Museum, Bishopville, SC - 5 mi.
In the region:
Cotton Press: Earth's Oldest?, Latta, SC - 44 mi.

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