- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

BISHOPVILLE, S.C. (AP) - From scraps of plants on a compost pile at a nursery near his Bishopville home, Pearl Fryar has spent 30 years becoming one of the best known topiary artists in the country.

Fryar doesn’t make the elephants or teapots most people think of when they think of plant art. Instead, he takes a long look at what he calls the structure of the plant and creates abstract constructions.

The art is dotted all over Fryar’s front yard and his neighbors have joined him. Tour buses stop by several times a week, and chances are pretty good they will find the 75-year-old at work, maybe in a lift 30 feet off the ground with his trimmers pruning one of his 300 plants or banging on a piece of scrap metal he plans to turn into a sculpture.

They might get a little philosophical lesson, too, about setting goals, coming up with solutions outside the book and the importance of love and peace to humanity.

“It’s really no big deal. At some point in my life I could afford my talent, something that I do well. The greatest reward in the world is to be complimented about for something you do well and enjoy,” Fryar said.

Then he smiles and delivers one of his favorite lines: “But I’m just a man who cuts up bushes.”

That man who cuts up bushes is known around the world. His garden started after he moved to Bishopville in the early 1980s to help open a can company near the Coca-Cola bottler and wanted some way to decorate his yard.

“My first goal was to get yard of the month,” Fryar said.

For three years, Fryar carefully grew, shaped and sculpted those scrap plants, keeping true to the three things he said people need to be successful - work, passion and marketing. Fryar’s yard of the month award was chronicled by the local newspaper. The article was saved by the mother of a writer at an influential gardening magazine and when her son came to visit, he headed to Fryar’s home and was stunned by the art before his eyes.

“My purpose was you walk through this garden and you feel differently when you leave than you did when you came,” Fryar said.

He achieves that through trees and bushes that don’t resemble any common objects, but have a shape that seems to retain the plant’s structure. Sprinkled throughout the garden are Fryar’s sculptures. One is made from the ball salvaged from the arm in a toilet tank along with a golf ball.

Another includes rusty springs, their source not clear. But that sculpture like everything else at Fryar’s home matches the theme of his garden - love. The sculpture has an eye, a heart and a letter “U.”

Fryar liked to whittle wood on his father’s farm growing up in southern North Carolina. He remembers getting in trouble. He went to college and studied chemistry and would work for a pharmaceutical company before getting his job with the can maker.

That artistic talent was on hold until he bought his home. He’s been retired for nearly a decade, giving him even more time to pour into what he really loves - topiary and philosophy.

“You’re not going to get credit doing what everybody else is doing. If you hear a person say, ‘the book says’ - that’s a person that’s never going to get credit for what they do. The person that wrote the book already got credit for that,” Fryar said. “The moment you rise above that is when you’ll get attention.”

Always the man who loves structure, Fryar said he is nearing his favorite time of year in the garden, when all his plants are trimmed back perfectly, showing their truest form.

“You only see this garden well-manicured before spring,” Fryar said, before zipping away in his motorized cart.

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