Exploring the Surprising World of Topiary Art

The otherwise dull art of topiary sculpture is being completely re-imagined in an unlikely place – teeny, tiny Bishopville, South Carolina.

Pearl Fryar frontyard

Sometime last year, we watched a documentary on Netflix called A Man Named Pearl. I don’t know how we found it or what even compelled us to watch it. It’s very likely that we chose to watch it out of pure exhaustion – “I’ve scrolled through one million movies and I still don’t know what to watch. How’s this?” “Okay. Whatever.” That’s how most of our Netflix viewing is determined, anyhow. That’s all beside the point though… The point is that we did watch it and the affect it had on us was quite unexpected.

fond art instrument sculpture

A Man Named Pearl follows the journey of Pearl Fryar, a sharecropper’s son, who, with passion and determination, has risen to prominence as an internationally acclaimed topiary artist. In the poorest county in South Carolina, Pearl has single-handedly created an amazing 3-1/2 acre garden from throwaway plants. In the process he has brought hope and racial reconciliation to his hometown. With decades’ worth of stunning, lush topiaries, his garden is now a tourist destination, and he’s an uplifting icon in his community.” (Source.)


I know the topic sounds a bit dry. “How exciting can a documentary on garden art be?” you may be asking yourself. I thought the same thing. But this film is one of those surprising little gems that you just want to share with everyone.

goodwill garden art

Pearl has developed a unique way of carving and sculpting topiary. It’s not representational, like Edward Scissorhands, for example. And certainly nothing like the giant, oblong bushes that are (somewhat) popular in suburban communities. Pearl’s style is completely abstract and like nothing your typical gardener has ever done. Pearl has a vision for each plant and he takes time to carefully craft that vision into reality. His geometric topiary sculptures are complex and whimsical, like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Aside from learning about this captivating new artist, the best part of the documentary was Pearl himself. He believes in the power of art – of using your creativity. And he wants to share his knowledge with anyone who wants to learn. It’s rare that you hear of an artist sharing their exact technique with others, so that other people can create their own works. Pearl, however, has coached his neighbors as they create topiary sculpture gardens of their very own. He just wants everyone to experience the joy and peace that he’s found through creating his topiary sculptures.

admiring Pearl Fryar's art

Luckily we were set to visit South Carolina before heading out on our “Big Adventure.” We took advantage of this opportunity and visited Pearl’s garden ourselves. It was a long drive, on a very hot day, but it was worth it. His artwork is stunning to behold in real life. I would fully recommend the documentary to anyone. It is especially helpful if you need a little boost to get out of a creative rut or if you just need to watch something uplifting in general.


Click here see more pix from Pearl’s garden on Flickr.

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