In the 1980s, Pearl Fryar and his wife went looking for a new home in Bishopville, S.C., and after being spurned by a neighborhood that feared an African American couple wouldn't keep up their yard, he set his sights on being the first black recipient of the local garden club's Yard of the Month award. Utilizing plants salvaged from the dump of the local garden center, Pearl began cajoling them into fantastic organic shapes, often working at night under spotlights until he had three acres of a walkable, three-dimensional garden work of art where, it has been said, "Dr. Seuss meets Salvador Dali".
Bishopton has taken him to its heart now, his sculptures line Main Street, and you can ask anybody in town where the topiary garden is. In the best tradition of art, his topiary work has gone viral, spreading through classes at the local college and mentoring of young people and other folks in town are now sculpting their own hedges. What must be the best-landscaped Waffle House in the country has granted the Fryars free meals for life in exchange for his wizardry in their streetscape. The “Pearl Special” is one scrambled egg, grits, and toast.
There is now a book and a DVD about Pearl Fryar's topiary art (and a NYT article), and he has installations at the Phillip Simmons garden in Charleston (Simmons is another outsider artist worthy of your attention, a blacksmith whose work is now being preserved), and the South Carolina State Museum has accessioned mature works, transplanted from his garden, into their permanent collection. Pearl's home garden has been designated a Preservation Project of the Garden Conservancy.
According to Pearl's official website "All are welcome and if you find me at home, I’ll stop whatever I am doing to visit with you and tell you about my work and why I create topiary sculpture." If you go, you'll be in good company; Rosemary Verey visited Mr. Fryar at home twice, but she died in 2001 before he could accept her invitation to walk the royal grounds with Prince Charles. What a garden meeting that would have been!