Monday, September 03, 2012

A Man Named Pearl

One of the most remarkable artists (and gardeners) that I know of is a man named Pearl.

Pearl Fryar is an artist and his medium is topiary. But his are not the typical shear-a-boxwood-into-a-meatball topiaries. Sometimes described as “Dr. Seuss meets Edward Scissorhands,” Pearl wields a chainsaw and what he does with a Leyland Cypress will blow you away.

By now Pearl Fryar's three- acre topiary garden outside Bishopville, SC. is a well known destination for garden clubs and gardeners and anyone who appreciates beauty. His garden has been featured in local, regional and national media, including the NY Times, CBS, PBS, HGTV and Turner South. It’s important to remember that Pearl Fryar has had no formal training in sculpting topiary. He was once given a three-minute demonstration at a local nursery, but that’s it. For Pearl, it’s simple. He wanted to create a feeling and as a freehand, abstract artist, he goes with his vision.

Pearl often is often invited to give talks at garden shows, which is where I was fortunate enough to catch up with him. Along with his PowerPoint presentation of his garden, Pearl brought along his chainsaw. He fired that sucker up and told the audience not to be afraid to cut – one of his many gems of wisdom that he shared. This is a man who is not afraid of heights. One of the slides showed him perched on top of an extension ladder, which is propped up on the hood of an old red pickup truck, and he’s happily trimming away at one of his trees.

As Pearl often says, “When horticulture people come to my place, to my garden, the first thing they say is ‘you shouldn’t be able to do that.’ And I say, ‘I didn’t know that.’ One time in my life, ignorance paid off.”

How he got started is the stuff of legends. Pearl and his wife Metra bought a house on the outskirts of Bishopville in the early 1980s and this was the first time Pearl actually had a yard. At the time, Bishopville was a small southern town and some folks with small minds were concerned that he wouldn’t keep up his yard. Pearl had seen "Yard of the Month" signs given by the garden club of Bishopville on other people’s lawns and decided he was going to get yard of the month.

Growing up in a rural town in North Carolina in a sharecropper’s family, Pearl was raised to work hard. When he and his wife bought their house, he was working at a local can company doing 12 hour shifts – four days on, four days off. So, he worked a 12 hour shift and then went home and worked on his dream. At first, his neighbors couldn’t figure out what was going on and were understandably skeptical. But, as one of his neighbors said, “He kept working, morning till night, and you could just see the miracle happening.”

Plants for his yard came from a scrap pile of discarded plants at a local nursery. In a documentary about his life and his garden, Pearl says, “I took my hedge trimmer and every plant that was in my yard, I cut some kind of design in it. It took me about three to five years to say, this is it. I got it.”

What was he aiming for? “It wasn’t important to me to create a garden. I wanted to create a feeling. When you walk through my garden, you feel differently than you did when you started.”

Now, when a bus load of gardening enthusiasts pulls up in front of his garden, he often tells them, “There are people who go by the book. I don’t go by the book. I’m writing my book and my book is going to be what you don’t find in the other books.”

Visit Pearl Fryar's Topiary Garden Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, 145 Broad Acres Rd Bishopville, SC 29010-2819. The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden has been designated a Preservation Project of the Garden Conservancy. As such, the Conservancy will help ensure that important gardens like this one are able to continue so future generations can enjoy them.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Hydrangeas, Drama Queens of the Woodland Garden

Hydrangea macrophylla

When I think of hydrangeas, I picture a Southern belle holding a limp wrist to her forehead, demanding refreshment to quench her thirst from the hot Southern sun. 

“Hydra” means water and hydrangeas do tend to wilt rather dramatically to let you know when they want to be watered (although experts say this isn’t necessarily the best indication). However, hydrangeas truly are the belle of any good woodland garden and definitely worthy of attention (and extra watering)-- whether they’re mophead or a lacecap (pictured).

Mophead hydrangeas (such an unattractive name for such beauty), with their dramatic blue and purple and pink blooms the size of your grandmother’s mop, truly are drama queens of the landscape. The lacecap variety are more delicate, and perhaps don’t get the attention they deserve.

According to the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture, five popular hydrangeas are:
  • Bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), sometimes called garden hydrangea, French hydrangea, or Florist’s hydrangea; the flowers are mophead or lacecap.
  • Oakleaf hydrangea ((Hydrangea quercifolia ) with large, cone-like white flowers and large leaves that resemble an oak tree.
  • Smooth hydrangea (hydrangea arborescens)
  • Peegee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)
  • Climbing hydrangea (hydrangea anomolapetiolaris)

What about the popular “Endless Summer” hydrangeas series? This cultivar that blooms from late spring through fall is Hydrangea macrophylla. For all, color is dictated by the pH of the soil.

If you want visit some public gardens with hydrangea collections worth viewing, here are some suggestions:

In Norfolk, Virginia, the Norfolk Botanical Garden’s Kaufman Hydrangea Garden features approximately 300 hydrangeas representing 20 different species and 200 different cultivars. 
The most prevalent is the Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), but many other interesting types are found here too.
Gibbs Gardens, located in Ball Ground, GA, north of Atlanta, opened in 2012. More than 1,000 hydrangea, of 150 varieties, are interspersed with the rhododendron and are planted on a forested north-facing slope of mature deciduous trees with gentle sloping walkways on the hillside. Blossoms appear in May and continue to October. Colors include blue, pink, white, lavender and purple depending on the soil acidity. What’s interesting here is that some of the hydrangeas have both pink and blue blooms. According to Jim Gibbs, this comes from lime leaching from pathways close to the plants.

  Of course, the easiest thing is to have your own hydrangea collection to enjoy every day!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Monet’s Giverny, an Artist’s Garden Canvas

Which photo is from Monet’s garden in Giverny and which one came from the scaled-down Giverny re-created for the current New York Botanical Garden’s “Monet’s Garden” exhibit?

Each year more than half a million visitors -- those who love art and those who love gardens -- make the pilgrimage to the small French village of Giverny where  the French Impressionist master Claude Monet turned to both canvas and soil to create his art. Monet’s glorious gardens were his inspiration and his studio.
For those in the New York area, from May 19-October 21, 2012, the New York Botanical Garden exhibition celebrates the life and gardens of the most famous French Impressionist painter, including a re-creation of Monet’s Grand AllĂ©e as well as the iconic Japanese footbridge.

However, if you happen to be in Paris, your journey can take a while if you travel by train, for example.

In Paris, take the train from the Paris Gare St-Lazare train station to the city of Vernon and then take a bus to the village of Giverny. HINT: When they say the trains leave every two hours, they mean what they say. And be aware that American credit cards do not work well in the ticket kiosks at the train station, which may necessitate waiting in a long line to buy tickets at the counter. (The train conductors will not wait because you had to wait in line.) However, there is (of all things) a Starbucks in the Gare St-Lazare train station where you can relax in comfy chairs and use their wifi.

All in all, it takes at least two hours to reach the real Giverny, including standing in line to buy tickets when you reach the house and gardens themselves. Is the destination worth the journey? Simply, oh my yes. The first view of the gardens quite literally took my breath away. Photos and canvas cannot do justice to the gardens themselves. Monet himself said it best.

 “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”
            —Claude Monet

Photo top by Ivo M. Vermeulen/The New York Botanical Garden
Photo bottom by The Garden Traveler, who was too busy enjoying the gardens to take good photos.