The Way God Makes Them Grow

A visionary gardener receives the recognition he has dreamed of.

By Pearl Fryar, Bishopville, South Carolina

As appeared in

From my living-room window I saw the dark sedan pull up the circular drive in front of my house and park. A well-dressed woman with a notebook stepped out. Well, here goes, I thought, heading out the door. It’s show time.

Three years I’d waited for this visit, three years of figuring it would never really happen, and here she was, straight from the Garden Club in town, ready to look over what I’d done and possibly declare it “Yard of the Month.”

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I guess my place had garnered a bit of a reputation. It was so unusual, so unlike what most folks think a garden should be, that somebody from the Garden Club couldn’t ignore me any longer.

But would she get it? Would anyone else really see what I’d come to see in the twisting, turning branches of the hedges and bushes I’d trained and trimmed so they resembled some of the most beautiful shapes in nature?

No beds of tulips or pansies that bloomed and died. Everything was lush and green. And different. Real different.

“Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking her hand. “Can I show you around?”

“Please do,” she said. At least she had the right shoes for walking around the three acres I have. It’s the first land I’ve ever owned, a big first for the son of sharecroppers going back generations.

Who’d ever think I’d want to be working the land? I remember backbreaking labor in the hot sun, coming in with my hands dirty and my shirt dripping with sweat. I’d promised myself I’d do anything to get away from growing things.

I dreamed of making something of myself and I did. Went to college for math and chemistry. Did my stint in the Army and traveled around the world, mustered out and got a good job to support my wife and son. So why did I end up spending all my spare time on a garden?

Our shoes made a quiet swishing sound in the grass. Birds were chirping and a squirrel dashed from a tree. The woman didn’t say a thing. Just made a few notes to herself, saying, noncommittally, “Hmmmm....Oh?... how unusual.”

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I’d clipped and trimmed and used the leaf blower on everything so not a twig was out of place. But I sensed she just didn’t get it. The way to describe my method, I suppose, is free form. I let my inspiration guide me in trimming the shapes and patterns.

My yard wasn’t what anyone thought a Yard of the Month should look like, I was sure. But to me it was beautiful.

“Thank you very much,” she said. We shook hands again and she got back in her car and drove off, back to her side of town.

What a fool I was to hope for this little badge of recognition. Nobody was going to put my place’s picture in the paper, no “Yard of the Month” sign would end up in front of my house.

The first time I’d seen a real garden, a garden that inspired me and not something that made me groan at the thought of harvesting, was when I was in the service in Korea. A Korean friend persuaded me to do some sightseeing in the old city and we toured what must have been a palace garden.

Everywhere you looked there was something beautiful—hedges, paths, fountains, ponds, lawns like carpets you wanted to lie down on. I caught my breath. Deep inside me there was a yearning. Could I ever make something like this? Even just one small corner?

What an outrageous notion. Like I said, nobody in my family had ever had a piece of land they could call their own, let alone use just for something beautiful, not practical like growing crops to feed a family or pay the bills. Oh, if my daddy could see this.

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Mr. Fryar,
Thank you for your inspiring topiaries. I viewed your documentary on Netflix and was so amazed at your commitment to sculpting trees and shrubs. On the documentary both you and your wife live with such enthusiasm and love. I've literally watched this documentary numerous times. May God bless you and thank you for allowing me to glimpse the well deserved "Yard of the Month". I will never forget this inspiring story since I enjoy gardening also.
God Bless,
Linda P.