Visitors come from all over the planet to the small town of Bishopville, South Carolina, to see Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden. Since 1981, when Fryar acquired his first yard, he has been working tirelessly to cover it in whimsical topiaries.
It all started when Fryar and his wife were looking for a house. They faced racial discrimination, with white residents from one neighborhood claiming they were worried that a Black couple wouldn’t keep up their yard. Once they bought a house, Fryar became determined to be the first Black man in Bishopville to win the coveted “Yard of the Month” award from the local Gardener’s Club.
Fryar started rescuing discarded plants from the compost pile of local nurseries. Though he had no horticultural or gardening background, he taught himself the trade—and with patience, care, and skilled hands, he watched as his plants grew and thrived. Despite advice from local gardeners, Pearl does not use pesticides or fertilizers and rarely waters his plants. And yet, even plants not meant to grow in South Carolina’s climate have flourished under his care.
As his first plants grew, Fryar began using an electric handsaw to transform them into remarkable abstract shapes. He transformed his three-acre property into a surreal wonderland filled with over 300 topiaries, which he tends to daily. His topiaries are complemented by his homemade “junk-art” placed around the garden. It feels like wandering through a coral forest, the kind that Max Ernst painted, or one of those expanses by Yves Tanguy, scattered about with mysterious dollops.
In Fryar’s topiary garden, nature has been riddled with human force almost beyond recognition. Four-foot letters cut in the yard call out: PEACE LOVE + GOODWILL. Even the grass has a booming voice.” The Los Angeles Times writes about Fryar: “Armed with an electric hedge clipper, he goes to work, often at night with the help of a spotlight, a rickety ladder and a jury-rigged lift. He can invest years into perfecting an arch, a spiral, a box atop a sphere or a cone atop a box. Some trees take on the shapes of fish skeletons; others are fantasy forms from Fryar’s imagination.”
In addition to being a topiary genius, Fryar is known for his kindness, dedication, perseverance, and strong belief in the power of positive thinking. Visitors can usually find him trimming his plants or riding his tractor on his property, eager to talk with people about his work or have them volunteer at the garden. He especially loves working with children in his community. One visitor wrote: “The pride he takes in the place is etched in his face, and his passion for his garden is beyond anything I have ever seen. If you’re experiencing a bit of the gardening doldrums, or any kind of doldrums for that matter, go visit this man. He is about as contagious a person as I have met in my life.”
In 2006, the Friends of Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden and the Garden Conservancy formed a partnership with Pearl Fryar. Through this partnership, they hope to preserve and maintain the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden and to further Pearl’s message of inspiration and hope. That same year, a documentary on Pearl’s life and work was released, entitled A Man Named Pearl. “It may seem that a man who does topiary is an unlikely superhero, but Pearl is a hero to people in his town and people who come to visit him,” said Brent Pierson, who produced and directed the film with Scott Galloway. “His message about how to tend your garden and tend your life is touching people.”
Know Before You Go
Take US-15 south from Hartsville. At the intersection of 15 and 34, make a right to stay on 15 and head southwest towards Bishopville. Remain on 15 and pass through downtown Bishopville. You will see a John Deere dealership and several other stores on the right; continue straight. When you see the Piedmont Cemetery on your right, begin to slow down. Broad Acres Road is the first right turn after the cemetery. There are small topiaries marking the road entrance but no signs. Turn right onto Broad Acres. Proceed on Broad Acres Road. Pearl’s house and garden are on the left.