When you drive into Bishopville, South Carolina, you immediately know that there's something different about the place. The main street is like alot of other small town main streets in South Carolina, except that it looks a little more hopeful, more optimistic - and there in the center of Main Street is a neat brick median planted with four evergreen topiaries, and not just your everyday topiaries.
A few months ago, I was fortunate to be able to attend the opening of the documentary, A Man Named Pearl, about Bishopville topiary artist Pearl Fryar. Since I've lived in South Carolina, I've heard alot about this man (all good) and although I've always thought I'd love to see his garden up-close, I simply never made the two and more hour drive to Bishopville. The documentary about his life is being released into a few markets soon (I've heard Charleston, Charlotte, Knoxville, and Indianapolis, but I'm not sure) and the hope is that it will get picked up for broader distribution at some point. I most certainly hope all of you get the opportunity to see it.
As for me, seeing his garden in person was everything I thought it would be and much, much more. I thought about it on the drive back to Charleston - and all I could come up with is that this man is simply everything that is written about him. He's the real thing. He's a man who forty years ago started cutting the shrubs around his house differently. He's a man with a vision bigger than his three acres of land, bigger than Bishopville, and bigger than the state of South Carolina. So here's how it goes: you drive into Bishopville, you see the topiaries on Main Street, then you stop and ask where the topiary garden is. A guy on a bicycle at the gas station tells you that you need to turn around, and take a right immediately after the town's only cemetery. After the turn, you can't miss it. At the turn you notice a few small, subtle topiaries (that you hadn't noticed driving into town), then you turn and you start driving down Broad Acres Road and you look up and well, everybody's right: you can't miss it. There, a bit up the road, on the left, is a 'yard' like no other. Yes, 165 Broad Acres Road. How could you miss it?
So, everything I'd read said that Fryar was always working in his garden, and that he loved when folks stopped by, and that he'd stopped whatever he was doing to talk with you. So here it was, almost 5 pm on a Saturday evening, and there he was, working in his garden with another man. There was that tractor that he was always riding around on in the documentary, and there was a ladder (he always kept a ladder close by). They were planting annuals in a huge heart-shaped trench that he had dug into the lawn - it was just under the words 'Love, Peace, and Goodwill' that he had already planted.
So he stopped, and talked with us. He tells us that we can walk around as long as we'd like and take as many pictures as we want. This man in Bishopville made this garden out of mostly unwanted plants, he doesn't use fertilizers or pesticides, and he rarely waters (and we get hot and dry here). All of the sculptures and fountains in the garden he has made from just things he found 'laying around'. He has numerous plants, such as short-needled evergreens, that really shouldn't be growing in his garden (much less thriving). He's really into mentoring young kids now, because he feels that anybody can take anything and make it something special. If that's not true with gardening, I don't know what is. He feels that if you work hard enough at something that you love, that eventually, someone will take notice. I guess he was right - because he smiled a big smile when I told him that I had seen the opening of his documentary in Charleston (he immediately asked if I had liked it), and then he went on to tell us about how the Garden Conservancy was working with him to see that his garden is cared for and that it will be preserved in the future (Pearl Fryar's Topiary Garden Fund of the Garden Conservancy). 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. As for his garden, I'll show you a bit of what I captured, but just know that the real thing is so much better.