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Help preserve Pearl’s legacy

on Tuesday, 21 September 2021. Posted in Letters to the Editor

Bob Sloan.  0Editor

If you’ve lived in the Pee Dee Region for any length of time, chances are you’ve made the trip to Bishopville to visit Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden.

Pearl’s three-acre plot is a magic kingdom filled with amazing artistry and topiary brilliance. For three decades, his work has drawn thousands of visitors from across the globe to the tiny town. It has earned him more accolades and honors than he could have ever imagined.

A documentary titled “A Man Named Pearl,” was released in 2006 and brought Fryar even more notoriety. He embraced the spotlight, using it as an opportunity to teach the world not just about gardening as an art form, but about pursuing your passion, resiliency and realizing your goals.

His happy place, however remained amidst the well-groomed and manicured shrubs, plants, bushes and trees that served as a living canvas for his artistic skills and talents.

Until recently it was not unusual to meet and speak with Pearl during a visit to his garden. He hasn’t truly worked in his garden for nearly two years and it shows. Due to failing health, Bishopville’s 81-year old artist in residence is confined to a wheelchair. Unable to continue the gardening that became his life’s work, Pearl’s spirit also deteriorated.

There have been some serious concerns that if something isn’t done soon, Pearl’s masterpiece might cease to exist. To preserve Pearl’s garden and his legacy, however, support and funding will be needed.

A meeting is planned for Tuesday, Sept.28 at Chappell Park Gym, located at 397 Chappell Drive in Bishopville, to discuss the future of Pearl’s garden and its connection to Bishopville, Lee County, the Pee Dee Region, and state. The meeting, which begins at 5:30, will be hosted by the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum.

The museum, in partnership with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Garden Conservancy of New York, and the WeGOJA Foundation, recently applied for and received a $50,000 Connected Communities Grant from the Central Carolina Community.

“When the museum and its partners applied for the Connected Communities Grant, our goal was to take a year to get the garden back in shape and build community consensus around a vision for how to honor Pearl Fryar’s legacy in a way that would be transformative,” said McKissick Museum Executive Director Jane Przybysz.

Przybysz said the museum and its partners are hoping to get the Mellon Foundation involved as well. The foundation recently launched what it is calling The Monuments Project. The project is a $250 million commitment over five years by the Mellon Foundation to transform the nation’s commemorative landscape by supporting public projects that more completely and accurately represent the multiplicity and complexity of American stories.

“We want to propose that the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project make a substantial investment in preserving Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden as a public monument to Black Americans’ resilience and creativity as gardeners and farmers who have long shaped the American landscape,” said Przybysz.

She said the questions/ topics for the upcoming meeting are “What does the commemorative landscape of Bishopville and Lee County look like today?” and “How might adding Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden to the monuments that presently exist in the community transform the stories that people who live in, work in and visit Bishopville learn from and value over time?”

I encourage everyone who has ever visited and been inspired by Pearl’s garden to attend the meeting. Help ensure that his legacy will last for generations to come.

Pearl’s garden is presently being maintained by protégé Mike Gibson. Gibson is from Youngstown, Ohio. His sister works at the University of South Carolina. While visiting his sister several years ago, Gibson also visited Pearl’s garden. He was taken by Pearl’s artistry and passion. The two became good friends and Gibson learned much about topiary and life from Pearl.

When Gibson learned of his mentor’s failing health and the garden, he and his family packed up and moved to South Carolina. The proverbial pruning shears have now been passed on from the teacher to the student.

“It’s a wonderful thing that all these organizations are coming together to preserve his legacy,” said Gibson. “I would hate to see this go away and it was almost there. Pearl’s vision is that this garden would always keep evolving, even if he wasn’t doing it anymore.

” Contact Editor Bob Sloan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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