Creating beautiful spaces
Youngstown topiary artist featured in new Discovery+ TV show
YOUNGSTOWN — When 7-year-old Mike Gibson began cutting his parents’ yard, he did not imagine it would lead to a career.
Gibson, 34, now has a six-year-old business called Gibson Works Property Art LLC, and on May 12, he will be one of seven contestants on the new reality TV show, “Clipped,” which will be a six-episode series on the Discovery+ streaming service.
The show will have topiary artists from across the country competing to sculpt original mosaic designs using metal frames and vegetation.
“Clipped” is hosted by actor Michael Urie, and the contestants’ works are judged by lead judge and lifestyle icon Martha Stewart, acclaimed landscape architect Fernando Wong and lifestyle, landscape and horticultural expert Chris Lambton of HGTV’s “Going Yard.” It premieres May 12 on Discovery+ with a special 90-minute episode. A new episode of the six-part series will launch each Wednesday on Discovery+.
The top topiarist will earn $50,000 cash.
Gibson, also known as “Gibby Siz,” a 2005 Chaney High School graduate, said yard work was his major side hustle while in middle school, high school and college.
Gibson’s primary focus growing up was competitive sports and art. His father, Michael T. Gibson, is a locally known artist.
After graduating from high school, the younger Gibson initially went to YSU, but eventually traveled to Columbus to take classes at Columbus State University. It was there he learned about shaping trees and bushes into artistic forms.
Gibson was introduced to the work of Pearl Fryar of Bishopville, South Carolina, whom he calls one of the “godfathers” of topiary designs in the United States.
Fryar, 81, is world renowned for his gardens.
“He’s my mentor,” Gibson said. “I’ve worked with him six times. He showed me what is possible in topiary.”
Fryar is one of a very few professional African-American topiarists in the country.
While influenced by Fryar, Gibson said he also developed his artistic sensibilities from his father, who taught him how to draw when he was younger.
“A lot of my foundation in art came from my father,” he said.
The younger Gibson decided to return to Youngstown six years ago to pursue this niche business. On his arrival, Gibson decided he wanted to do at least 330 topiary yard designs in the greater Mahoning Valley region to match its area code.
“I returned here because I decided to change the narrative of the area from being the murder capital to the topiary capital of Ohio,” he said.
He reached the 330 goal last year. Gibson primarily does his work on residential properties, although he has done topiary works for commercial businesses. He has done work in Cleveland, Houston and Charlotte, North Carolina.
A new father and husband, Gibson said he is pleased with the direction of his career.
“Every project I do is a success for me,” he said. “I’m doing what I love.”
Gibson describes his style as free flowing and abstract. He takes what he can from the trees and bushes in front of him.
“I’ve learned what I could from Mr. Fryar and from Jake Hobson, another topiarist, and then developed my own style,” he said. “I focus a lot on angles and curves, incorporating geometrical shapes into my work.”
“I have a goal to one day open a topiary institute where I can teach the community more about the art of topiary and the therapeutic benefits it has to offer,” Gibson said. “I believe the more people know about topiary, the more beautiful the spaces around them can become, in return helping to beautify the world in the process.”
Appearing on this new reality show has taken Gibson out of his comfort zone in almost every way imaginable, he admited.
“The people at the network approached me,” he said. “They must have seen my work on Instagram. I made it past the interviews, auditions and was cast on the show.”
The contestants primarily crafted mosaic-culture topiaries, which is taking a metal form and covering it with a membrane that holds a light, humid soil and plants are inserted into it, like pieces of mosaic laid into wet cement.
The weekly challenges were specifically engineered to test the gardening prowess required for a “Clipped” champion. During each challenge, the contestants worked in the state-of-the-art topiary tent, fabrication area and world class nursery to create designs that showcase their distinctive styles and brands.
They were presented with over-the-top tasks, such as sculpting enormous animals worthy of a large-scale museum exhibition and designing a living room with functional sod “furniture” made entirely of plants.
“This was brand new to me,” he said. “I did not know what it was. It took a little time to prepare. I did research on how to do it, so it was a learning curve.”
Gibson liked being on a reality TV show and would like to do it again.
“The competition was like being thrown in the ocean,” he said. “You either sink or swim. It is very competitive.”
Other contestants on the show were Meghan Petricka of Eden Prairie, Minn; Edward “Cowboy” Pequignot of Kent, Conn.; Jade Rojas of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Juan Villanueva of New York, N.Y.; Marie Danielle Vil-Young of Franklin Park, New Jersey; and Ryan Zoeller of New York, N.Y.
“We’ve selected the best and brightest event designers, botanical designers and artists from around the country to wow fans in the ultimate topiary showdown,” said Bob Kirsh, vice president, programming and development, HGTV. “It’s remarkable to watch talented people transform plants and flowers with this incredibly creative art form.”