Over-the-Top Topiaries

Internationally known topiary gardener Pearl Fryar talks about his favorite plants to use for sculpturing.

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Pearl Fryar works his magic.

Internationally known for his extraordinary gift for turning ordinary plants into fantastic shapes, topiary gardener Pearl Fryar works his artistry on a two-acre suburban lot in Bishopville, South Carolina.

About 25 years ago Pearl started out trying to win the yard-of-the-month award in his neighborhood. A local nursery gave him some plants that were near death, and Pearl brought them back to life by fashioning the shrubs into spirals. He soon found that he liked carving plants into various shapes, both whimsical and classical.

While Pearl's first topiaries were mainly classical or animal shapes, his vision has turned to the abstract over recent years. Junipers, several forms of cypress, camellias and hollies are among the plants he uses as his medium. He uses gas trimmers, wire and electrical tape to form his horticultural creations.

Pearl's garden with its 20- to 30-foot-tall specimens has been featured in every major gardening magazine and several newspapers across the country. Almost every television show on gardening has featured his yard, and he has most recently been the subject of the award-winning 2008 documentary A Man Named Pearl.

Now retired from his position as a maintenance technician at a nearby factory, Pearl uses his time to volunteer and teach art classes at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C.

Following are some of the plants that appear as interesting shapes in Pearl's garden:

Sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua)

The plant: This broadleaf evergreen shrub is native to Japan and is adaptable to the milder areas of the U.S. In fall, sasanqua camellia has blooms ranging in color from white and light pink to dark pink and bright red. It can grow 12 to 15 feet tall, depending on the cultivar. Some selections like 'Yuletide' have an upright growth habit, while others like 'Shishigashira' have a more compact habit. Camellia sasanqua's flowers and glossy green leaves are smaller than those of C. japonica.
How to use it: This evergreen shrub can be used as a hedge or screen. It is also suitable for espalier and topiary.
Cultivation: Plant in filtered sun to semi-shade in rich, moist, well-draining soil. Hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 9.
Source: TyTy Nursery

Dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria 'Nana')

The plant: Native to the southern U.S., dwarf yaupon holly is an evergreen shrub with small, dark green leaves. It has a compact growth habit and grows slowly to a height of three to five feet with a four- to six-foot spread. The fruit is insignificant. Dwarf yaupon holly is quite adaptable to a wide range of conditions, tolerating dry to wet soils and salt spray.
How to use it: Use this evergreen shrub as a low-growing hedge or to outline flower gardens. It is also an excellent option for topiary.
Cultivation: Plant in full sun, and prune occasionally to retain shape. Hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 10.
Source: TyTy Nursery

Hollywood juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa')

The plant: A fast-growing conifer, the Hollywood juniper has bright green foliage and an irregular, upright shape. Native to eastern Asia, this evergreen shrub grows 15 to 20 feet tall with a ten-foot wide spread. Its branches and stems grow in a twisting pattern, giving the plant a unique shape. A popularly used plant in California, this juniper is known for its fast growth and tolerance to heat and salt.
How to use it: Prized for its architecture in the landscape, use Hollywood juniper as a specimen plant. It is also amenable to abstract topiary shaping.
Cultivation: Allow plenty of room for this juniper to reach its full growth. Plant it in full sun and a well-draining soil. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 10.
Source: Evergreen Nursery

Leyland cypress (X Cupressocyparis leylandii)

The plant: This popular evergreen ultimately grows 60 to 90 feet tall by 12 to 15 feet wide and has fragrant, thick foliage. The plant grows very fast, as much as three to six feet in one year, and develops an upright pyramidal form.
How to use it: Excellent for topiary and hedges, Leyland cypress is good to use as a windbreak or screen.
Cultivation: Plant in full sun and a well-draining soil. Hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 10.
Source: Wayside Gardens

Spartan juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Spartan')

The plant: Spartan juniper is a fast-growing evergreen with a rich green color and a narrow, columnar shape. It is very tolerant of drought, salt, cold and heat. This rocket-shaped plant grows to 15 feet high by three to four feet wide.
How to use it: Use it to flank a doorway or gate or as an accent plant. It is also suitable for topiaries.
Cultivation: Plant in full sun and a well-draining soil. Avoid planting it in locations with poor drainage. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9.
Source: Evergreen Nursery

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