I met Pearl Fryar when he demonstrated just what can be accomplished with a well-aimed chainsaw and a mind free of many garden conventions, as he stood tall on a ladder and twisting and turning a well-oiled rotating chain provided the ultimate demonstration of topiary genius during great demonstrations at the 2004 Carolina Gardener Symposium in Savannah. This documentary just goes to show how entertaining documentaries can be, especially when relating the biography of Mr. Fryar, an African-American self-taught topiary artist living (and trimming) in Bishopville, South Carolina.
Comparisons with Edward Scissorhands are all too obvious but mention must be made because Edward was limited by a script and special effects while Pearl has the ability to throw leaves, branches, and caution to the wind in order to change a tree’s silhouette from the fairly commonplace to a star in most any international garden.
Beginning in 1984 (an auspicious year for setting trends), Pearl has worked to maintain a yard that would make Edward, if you’ll excuse the pun, look to his laurels. In fact, the crew from the film “Edward Scissorhands” actually visited Pearl’s backyard for inspiration.
Pearl’s turf is a three-acre forest of clipped twigs and branches resulting in an amazing number of shapes, including many salutes to hearts and flowers, not to mention spirals and interlocking salutes to DNA, including a clipped motto that reads: “Peace, Love and Good Will.”
Like most great stories, Pearl’s begins with that old cliché about the working classes never tending to their own yards and living in a lack of style with the emphasis on bad-taste trash. Shortly after moving to Bishopville, Pearl tried to buy a lot in a white neighborhood and immediately ran into problems with his vision, or as the neighbors thought, his lack of such.
So he did what most horticultural geniuses do, he took care of his own--and it grew and bloomed with such fervor that today he’s put Bishopville on the map. Just about every denizen of the town--including the Waffle House manager and the director of the Bishopville Chamber of Commerce--admits just that.
While watching this salute to the kind of genius that strikes very few people (great musicians and great artists come to mind), where an untrained gardener could actually take on the best that Kew Gardens would ever produce, and win, you begin to wonder just what he could accomplish in a country that pretends to love gardens but actually appears to dote on artificial lawns and whose idea of tree-trimming is to cut it to the ground and let the next generation begin again.
Pearl says: “In this life you're gonna have obstacles. The thing about it is, don't let those obstacles determine where you go.”