Just off the Bishopville exit of South Carolina’s Interstate 20, you’ll find one of the most breathtaking topiary gardens in the world. However, what’s even more remarkable about the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden than its menagerie of artistically and imaginatively trimmed shrubs is the story of how the garden itself came to be.

Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden
Image: Judson McCranie/Wikipedia

In 1981, Pearl Fryar and his wife, Metra, were riding around Bishopville looking for a new house. In one particular neighborhood, however, they were met with discrimination. Seems some of the white neighbors were bothered by a Black couple wanting to move into the neighborhood because, as they put it, “Black people don’t know how to keep up their yards.”

Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, “You can’t keep a good man down.” Once the Fryars did buy a house in 1982, Pearl set out to be the first Black man to ever win Bishopville’s much sought after “Yard of the Month” award and prove that a Black man could, indeed, keep up his yard.

Some of Mr. Pearl’s art has been displayed in museums all over the country. Here’s just a sample.
Image: Stephanie Stuckey

However, there was just one problem — Pearl’s yard was just outside the city limits, which meant it was also just outside the standard area for it to be judged in the “Yard of the Month” competition. As a result, Pearl knew he’d have to do something extraordinary to get his yard noticed.

Pearl, who had been working at a can manufacturing plant in Bishopville since 1976, really didn’t know much about topiary. So, he drove over to Spitzer’s Nursery in nearby Camden for some advice. After a three-minute lesson in topiary design and a stop at City Nursery Farm in Bishopville to rescue some discarded plants from the nursery’s compost pile, Mr. Pearl went to work on his project.

The artist at work.
Image: YouTube Screenshot

By 1985, his topiary garden began taking shape, and the local gardening club did, indeed, take notice of his neatly-trimmed and uniquely-shaped shrubs and his well-kept yard, awarding him his highly coveted “Yard of the Month” that year. He didn’t stop there, however, as something just “clicked,” as he put it, and he continued honing and expanding his garden.

Today, the garden is packed with trees and shrubs that are artfully designed into dozens of shapes in what is now known as the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden. At the nine stops along the way, you’ll find topiary in all shapes and sizes. Some are short and stumpy, some mushroom shaped, some squared, some arched, and some a little gangly. Then there are the unique designs of the “Fishbone Tree” — a fishbone-shaped Leyland cypress — as well as the imaginative “birdhouse tree.”

The Fishbone Tree: Just one of the many interesting topiary sculptures in Mr. Pearl’s Garden
Image: Judson McCranie/Wikipedia

According to Pearl’s estimation, there are about 1,000 plants now growing in his garden, making it the largest private topiary garden in the country.

Forty years after being told he couldn’t move into a Bishopville neighborhood because Blacks didn’t know how to keep up their yards, people now come from all over the world by the busloads to see Pearl’s creations. His topiary artwork can also be seen in museums all across the South (and even at the local Waffle House in Bishopville, where Pearl and his wife get free breakfast every morning in trade for the upkeep of his topiary sculptures out front). His garden has even been featured on local and national television, including on CBS-Sunday Morning and HGTV.

Some of the interesting artwork that Mr. Pearl integrates into his topiary garden.
Image: Stephanie Stuckey

In 2006, a documentary about Pearl’s life and art, called A Man Named Pearl, made its premiere at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the film won the Audience Appreciation Award. The film speaks of respect for yourself and for others — an inspiring story about a life that can be summed up best by the movie’s tagline (and spoken by the subject of the film himself):

“In this life, you’re gonna have obstacles. The thing about it is, don’t let those obstacles determine where you go.”

The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden is located at 145 Broad Acres Road in Bishopville, SC. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. — 4.p.m., and admission is free (though donations are appreciated).

Whether traveling to or from Bishopville to see Pearl’s garden, don’t forget to add a Stuckey’s stop at any of our fine South Carolina locations (or at any one of the many other Stuckey’s locations around the South that are on your way). You’ll find a wide variety of mouthwatering pecan candies and other road trip snacks, like our world-famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls and deliciously flavored pecan and popcorn treats.

Not to toot our own horn, but there are Stuckey’s located all over the Carolinas. Make sure you stop in one on your next road trip!
Image: Stephanie Stuckey

Stuckey’s also still carries all of those kitschy souvenirs you remember from the family road trips of your childhood, so be sure to browse our wide selection of Stuckey’s branded t-shirts, caps and mugs, or pick up a rubber alligator or two for that special someone back home.

Not planning on a road trip just yet? Then let the road trip come to you by visiting our website and ordering Stuckey’s merchandise delivered right to your home. Go to stuckeys.com for more info.

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