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Garden of Delight

By Benita Heath

What can you do to get out of the metaphorical straight jacket of the COVID-19 virus quarantine.

A simple answer would be to get outdoors. But if your front yard isn’t enough, the college town of Granville, Ohio, home of Denison University, could be the answer. A drawing card would be the Jill Griesse Historic Garden.

Here is a multi-faceted landscape garden in the backyard of the Robbins Hunter Museum, a 19th Century Grecian-designed mansion saturated with examples of the decorative arts and architectural design that show what gracious living was to those who came before.

A lovely way to enjoy beauty and to see history in a touchable way.

However with the pandemic, there have been restrictions, but right now the museum is open 1-3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday for tours. Masks are required but if you don’t have one, they will be provided if you give a day ‘s notice.

Quoting from the museum website “The Grecian movement is seen today by some architectural critics as the worst kind of architecture — copying ancient monuments blindly to satisfy a past that is no longer relevant to our world. The enduring beauty of the frontispiece of this house is but one small example of why these critics are so out of touch today with the timelessness and the beauty of the human spirit.”

Then there are the gardens. Now prepare to go back in time and learn.

Everything is authentic, right down to the choice of grass and clover that would have been seen in the grounds of the 19th Century homes      in Granville.

“The front border along Broadway contains plants that would have been in use in 1842, the year Alfred Avery finished the house,” according to Christina Gray, president of the Robbins Hunter Museum board. “Another border reflects the period when the house was owned by Denison University (1903-1950.)”

Then there is the Ladies Garden where plantings duplicate what Hunter would have put out. This garden reflects Hunter’s passion for stained glass.But the design here doesn’t try to go back to Medieval church windows. Rather it takes as inspiration the vibrancy of the 1960s when design pushed back boundaries.

“Bobby” Hunter grew up in Newark, the larger city next to Granville, graduating from high school in 1922. As a teen-ager he developed a love for antiques studying until he was considered expert enough to become an antiques dealer.

He even supplied finds for Greenfield Village, a recreation of a community in Dearborn, Michigan, of community life before the 21st Century.

His home is next to the Granville Public Library and anyone wanting to check out the latest mystery could look over to see some of his latest acquisitions flowing from house to side yard.

Hunter was a charming man, at least as far as a ‘Hello. How are you?” would go. But no one viewing Hunter’s collection could question his massive knowledge or steely business acumen to get what he wanted at the price he wanted. Hunter died in 1979 at the age of 73.

A plus for the gardens, especially in these days, is they never close.

“People can and do wander in for the evenings,”Gray said. “Visitors may approach the gardens in one of two ways. The front gate sits between the two 1842 beds and is the usual public entrance. Our business entrance is on the west side of the building. Frankly we don’t care how they come in as long as they enjoy themselves when they do.”

Gray recommends taking in the overall landscape design before narrowing one’s perspective to particular beds.

“It changes so much from week to week and was designed to do so, it’s hard to say ‘go see this,’” Gray said.” A successful visit is when someone is inspired.”