‘A Man Named Pearl’: Pearl Fryar’s topiary garden

by | May 8, 2010

We watched a warm and inspiring movie last night. A Man Named Pearl (trailer above) is a 2006 documentary film by Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson centered on one astonishing yard on the outskirts of Bishopville, South Carolina.

The owner, Pearl Fryar, was born in 1939, the son of a sharecropper. He encountered a certain amount of resistance in moving to Bishopville in 1982. It seems he was considering a house in an area where people of color did not customarily reside. As one resident recalls, “They didn’t really want him in this neighborhood ’cause he wouldn’t keep up his yard.”

But this is not a movie about racism. Instead, it’s the story of a man driven to make his unique human vision a reality through perseverance, patience, and lots of tireless work. As Pearl Fryar observes, “There are always gonna be those obstacles. The thing about it is, to make you strong enough that you don’t let those obstacles become what determine where you go.”

Noticing a local garden club’s “Yard of the Month” award, Fryar made up his mind to win it. He decided to use topiary — the practice of clipping trees and shrubs into ornamental shapes — to set his landscaping apart. His only training in topiary was a three-minute garden center demonstration. Fryar’s unbending intent transformed it into his life’s work, and he became a world-renowned master of the art.

A Man Named Pearl is a quiet, peaceful meditation on the human spirit. Besides Pearl Fryar, it features the observations of his wife Metra, who reflects on their harmonious marriage, friend Polly Laffitte, who brought his work to the South Carolina State Museum, and Ronnie Williams, director of the Lee County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, an enthusiastic local booster straight out of NBC’s Parks and Recreation.

The motto in Pearl Fryar’s yard is “Love, Peace, Goodwill,” and that’s the overall atmosphere of this movie. There are bird sounds and a mellow jazz score by Fred Story. There are the comments of neighbors and visitors on field trips. Filmakers Galloway and Pierson do a fine job of staying out of the way and keeping a relaxed pace while packing a lot of story into a quick 78 minutes, and Bishopville ends up looking like a very charming and supportive community.

The tranquil setting only showcases the powerful lessons of character all the more. Amidst the stillness is a fit and humble man with a small arsenal of gardening tools. He never stops imagining, perfecting, or working on creations which take years and years to nurture and prune into reality.

There are deep truths to be learned or relearned here by any viewer, but they may be especially valuable to the young. This movie should be shown in as many schools as possible. I’m giving it 5 out of 5 stars at Netflix.

You can visit the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden on the Web or in person (more details at RoadsideAmerica.com). The Wikipedia entry for Pearl Fryar includes additional links to various stories and photos.


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