A visionary gardener receives the recognition he has dreamed of.
Posted in , Apr 19, 2013
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.”
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.”
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.
I had to shove that dream aside for my own practical purposes. My job in manufacturing took me to big cities and apartments. I went from New York to Atlanta, then landed here in Bishopville to help open a new plant for my employer.
My wife, Metra, and I bought a piece of property that I figured I’d do something with...but what? I was just a nuts-and-bolts guy looking for a way to unwind at the end of my 12-hour days.
I bought a few hedges, trees and shrubs, planted them and went back to the nursery for more. I stared hard at the scrawny bushes and trees and something spoke to me, something that was as deep as my reaction to that garden in Korea.
I imagined how I could transform them into shapes of soothing beauty, patterns of shadow and light. Much the same way God saw more than just a scruffy sharecropper’s son in Pearl Fryar. With his help, I’d made something of myself. Couldn’t I do the same thing with this patch of earth?
My neighbors must have thought I’d lost a screw. Metra just shook her head. “Pearl, what’s got into you?” I was going back and forth to the nursery, gladly taking the inventory they were throwing away.
I set up lights to work at night and was never without my clippers or twine to train a bush the way it seemed to want to go. I knew nothing, but followed what I saw in my mind’s eye.
They call it topiary—a word I’d never heard—cutting bushes into shapes. Some people make a bush or a tree look like a dog or a giraffe. I wanted my plants to grow the way God made them grow... just shaped and sculpted.
How would I have explained that to the Garden Club lady? I couldn’t have put my vision into words. The garden took form one day at a time; it was my hobby, my passion, my calling.
People started to take notice. “Pearl, you’ve really got something here,” my neighbor said, pausing in front of the garden. “It’s mighty impressive.” Drivers slowed down. The garden spoke for itself, like anything that shows God’s beauty.
I shrugged off suggestions about Yard of the Month. Truth was, this part of Bishopville was outside the city limits and therefore not technically qualified. But when I saw other folks’ properties featured in the paper, I admit I thought, Wouldn’t it be nice someday?
That lady was my big chance. I guess I’d blown it. I’d try not to be disappointed. Put it right out of my mind. There was work enough to do on the garden anyway.
I’d won my prize already. It was before my eyes in lush green. It was in the gifts God had given me in life. This garden was for him and I could be content in that. Perfectly content.
One morning I looked out my window and saw a sedan pull up and a woman—that same polite lady—pick up a sign from her trunk and put it in the front yard, pounding it in with a hammer.
I could see the words when she was carrying it, but couldn’t really believe my eyes. I had to put down my coffee and go investigate. “Yard of the Month.” Was there ever a finer honor? Let’s face it, everybody enjoys a little appreciation now and then. Even free-form gardeners.
That was several years ago. The occasional car slowing in front of the house has now turned into a regular cavalcade of drivers who stop and visit, touring the place like I did those gardens in Korea.
I’m told that some 10,000 people visit Pearl Fryar’s garden every year. That first mention in the local paper has turned into magazine spreads, a calendar, even an award-winning documentary.
I don’t think the garden will ever be finished. It certainly didn’t end with my Yard of the Month honor. That was only the beginning.
Did you enjoy this story? Subscribe to Guideposts magazine.