By Elise Franco
It’s plain to see, even for someone visiting for the first time, that Fellows Riverside Gardens is a priceless asset to the Mahoning Valley.
Pearl Fryar, a self-taught topiary artist with a renowned garden in Bishopville, S.C., was in town only for a few days, but he said Fellows is one of the most impressive he’s seen.
“I am really moved by the Family Garden here,” he said. “Anything you do that speaks to kids will somewhere along the line motivate them.”
It was in that Family Garden on Friday that Fryar performed a demonstration of his skills as part of Fellows’ celebration of National Public Gardens Day.
He cut leaves and branches from the middle section of the Arborvitae evergreen tree, making way for birdhouses that will hang there. He also began to form the bottom half into a round shape.
Fryar said the birdhouse tree is something he discussed during his lecture at the gardens Thursday, and he was asked by staff members to use the technique during his demonstration.
Fryar’s good-humored nature and topiary talent immediately grabbed the attention of several dozen people who stopped in to watch the demonstration.
“They liked the birdhouse tree,” he said, adding jokingly, “My general rule is, when a lady likes something, you go with it.”
At first sight, the tree may not look like much, but Fryar said it’s a work in progress that garden staff will continue to nurture over the next three years.
“When it’s complete it will look like something completely different,” he said.
Keith Kaiser, horticulture director, said working on the tree will become a “true collaborative effort.”
“It’s fun for us to get involved in his process, and he’s leaving a little bit of himself here with us,” he said.
Fryar began teaching himself the art of topiary when he was 40 and just moving from New York to South Carolina. His first plants were throwaways from a nursery, and the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden in Bishopville is now a wildly popular destination spot for gardening enthusiasts.
“I did the whole thing with a creative point of view,” he said
Kaiser said bringing in people such as Fryar and Bill Hendricks, of Klyn Nurseries in Perry, Ohio, is a great way to remind visitors of how valuable a public garden can be.
“The value is in the education you can get here,” Kaiser said. “We have a place where people can come and add value to their lives by viewing and learning about the gardens.”