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Vision, patience vital for luxuriant topiary

Posted Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 10:20 am

By Durant Ashmore

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As a garden enthusiast and as a South Carolinian you should be proud to know that our state is renown for its contributions to the world of landscape gardening. The column today is inspired by a national story presented last weekend by the "Sunday Morning" show on CBS.

The subject of the story was Pearl Fryar from Bishopville. Fryar is a Self-taught topiarist who has created a masterful garden which is an inspiration to anyone who views it.

The art of topiary is the formal trimming, training and pruning of shrubs into various ornamental shapes. Topiary shrubs may be in the form of geometric shapes, spirals or animal forms.

I have never met Fryar, but I have known about him for a long time. Last week I was in Bishopville on a business trip and I was able to observe many examples of his work. The city of Bishopville has capitalized on the thousands of visitors who travel there to view his garden and they have numerous examples of his work in their public parks and buildings.

Fryar is an inspiration to those who set their mind to do something and accomplish their task. In the early 1980s Fryar decide he wanted to win the Yard of the Month award for the city. He wasn't exactly sure how he was going to do this, he just had it in his mind that this was something he wanted to do.

Pearl had a three-minute conversation with Graham Drayton of City Nursery and started on his way. Drayton is another of South Carolina's renown horticulturists. Drayton's father was a barber in Bishopville who began rooting azaleas in his spare time. He build up such a business from his azalea rootings that City Nursery was founded in the 1950s. Graham took over the business several decades ago and now City Nursery is a huge enterprise which is at the forefront of South Carolina horticulture.

In that brief three-minute conversation, Drayton introduced Fryar to the basic techniques of topiary. Topiary pruning requires an eye for seeing potential forms in a plant and having the patience to train the plant into that shape. Any plant can be the subject of topiary. This includes large hardwood trees, dwarf groundcovers or anything else in between. The main requirements are vision and patience.

Shearing plants into shape is one of the main techniques. This requires extensive use of well-sharpened, gas-powered hedge shears. Training plants on lattice forms is another technique that is used extensively. Plants are forced to conform their shapes into fanciful configurations.

Topiary is not for everyone. It does not necessarily belong in a natural Piedmont landscape. If you want to make a statement with a topiary look, or if you want to emphasize a formal setting with the use of topiary, please feel free to do so. If you have a natural landscape setting and think that a few bushes sheared into round balls or a square tree or two scattered around your yard will look really neat, please refrain from doing so. Topiary can be fun to do, but like almost anything else, if it is done wrong it can be really tacky.

There really are two sides to the Pearl Fryar story. One side is the incredible topiary effects he has created. The other side is the story of the man himself. He is a man who has taken a three-minute lesson and began a mission. In short order Fryar won Yard of the Month in Bishopville. At the age of 65 he is still on his mission, and has produced a phenomenal legacy.

The "Sunday Morning" show was a focus on "The Good Life." There were various stories on 300-foot yachts in the south of France, the Rockefellers and a lady in Oregon who won $18 million in the lottery. The best line in the whole show was when Fryar said, "If you gave me a million dollars I wouldn't be happier than I am right now."

Editor's note: Columnist Durant Ashmore, MLA, of Fountain Inn, is certified by the South Carolina Nursery Association. He can be reached at 243-3446 or

Wednesday, June 23  

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