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Columbia gardeners learn how to prune topiaries as part of free four-week gardening master class

Topiary expert Mike Gibson, Columbia Parks and Recreation and the Ernest A. Finney, Jr. Cultural Arts Center are offering this four-week master gardening class.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Three community organizations are trying to teach art to residents through a free gardening class. 

Topiary expert Mike Gibson is working with Columbia Parks & Recreation and the Ernest A. Finney, Jr. Cultural Arts Center to host the four-week master class.

"I think a common misconception that people don’t relate topiary to being art. They see it as just landscaping," he said. A lot of people don’t correlate landscaping with art, so that’s something that we want to be able to educate this community members about is that topiary is art. It’s a living sculpture."

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Crafting the perfect topiary isn't the only topic they're covering.

"This is the first of its kind where we’re not just teaching about topiary. We’re also educating the community more about gardening, we’re teaching them some cooking classes. How to take that food you have in your garden and make a quick meal out of it," he said. "And we’re also doing some journaling classes and helping you to learn how to reflect and do some personal reflection and do that and write it on paper."

On Wednesday, Gibson shared his philosophy with workshop attendees at the Edisto Discovery Park.

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Nikky Finney with the Ernest A. Finney, Jr. Cultural Arts Center says this is the first community outreach event. Finney says it's important to recognize art takes on different forms. 

She said the idea for this workshop fit well with the season. She spoke alongside Gibson about another form of art: journaling.

"Because it’s summer and it’s hot and everything is growing, we’re talking about topiary art and growing gardens, and I’m here doing a workshop on memoir and how to keep a journal," she said. "After they get their hands dirty all day long, they’ll go home, wash their hands, and then sit down and write down maybe what they did. Maybe it’ll be motivational for other things in their life."

The arts center will open later this year. While Finney says the downtown organization will host all kinds of art classes, this is the very first community workshop the center has helped host. 

"We don’t believe in artists as an exclusive thing," she said. "We believe in an artist as a person who cultivates community connections in all kinds of ways, so that’s what we’re trying to do."

Tina Frierson attended the session to learn about a new skill she’s been wanting to try. She calls herself a "beginner gardener."

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"Being here has been very enlightening," she said. "I’ve learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t know before."

Gibson says he hopes other attendees feel the same way. He said his goal is that this will create a domino effect with each person who attends.

"Because if they beautify their spaces, their neighbor wants to beautify their space and so forth. And then we’re beautifying the community of Columbia. We’re beautifying neighborhoods. That's the goal: to have a more beautiful space," he said.

In the future, Gibson says he hopes the idea of a "master class" like this will expand to cover even more topics outside of gardening.

"This is only the beginning," Gibson said. "We hope that this is gonna foster into something even bigger. That we’re going to have more classes. Not just about topiary, but about anything."

Gibson was previously the topiary artist-in-residence at Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden in Bishopville. His work is also found throughout Columbia, including in the USC Desegregation Commemorative Garden.

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As for what you can expect once the cultural center opens: "all kinds of art classes," Finney said.

"Dance, writing, theatre, topiary arts, sewing, leather crafts, jewelry making, perhaps some culinary arts as well," she said. "We take the word ‘artist’ and we stretch it out as far as we can. That’s gonna be happening in the coming year once we get the facility."

Registration for this four-week gardening workshop is closed, but Gibson says if you’re interested in learning about this workshop or other future projects, you can contact Columbia Parks & Recreation.

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