One certainly cannot entertain the notion of giving a Griffin or Grotesque a place in one's garden unless one understands these important creatures. They have, after all, been here a lot longer than we have. They are also difficult to find and somewhat temperamental.
The legendary Griffin has the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. As you can see, my guy has the wings, but his head looks like a dragon. He's a real joy and has guarded my front porch for over six years now.
Cultural beliefs in ancient times considered the lion to be the king of beasts. The eagle was the king of the birds, and so the two monarchs were joined together, creating a mythical creature that would always be known for guarding treasure. (I treasure my front porch and, so far, no one has stolen it, so my Griffin is doing his job.) The ancient Greeks told the story that, like the eagle, the Griffin builds a nest; unlike the eagle, a Griffin lays sapphires instead of eggs. (I'm still waiting.) Stephen Scotus, a ninth century Irish writer, stated that Griffins were monogamous, mating for life and remaining alone if a partner died. Thus the Griffin became the emblem for the Church's views on remarriage.
Griffins are used widely in heraldry in many diverse depictions, but always staying true to the lion body with eagle head and wings. The creature shows up in architecture, literature, and natural history. Lewis Carroll's version of Alice in Wonderland has a fantastic illustration by Sir John Tenniel. In real life, some Old World vultures are called "gryphons": the Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus). Some breeds of dogs are also called griffons. The Andean Condor is Vultur gryphus, and who can forget the dinosaur, Hagryphus giganteus?
Once I caught the "mythical creature bug," I began to search for more of these treasures for my garden. No easy feat!
I discovered a small Grotesque in the garden department of some store (I don't remember which). As with my pseudo-griffin, this new creature was the only one on the shelf. I snatched him up and hurried home, knowing exactly where I'd put him. The first year, he lived under my dwarf Japanese maple. Then we moved, leaving the tree behind (sob) and, the following year, he lived under the Bleeding Hearts. The next year, I placed him in my rock garden where he seemed to be happiest. Visitors always do a double-take when they spot his green body and beady brown eyes peering from amongst the alpine plants.
I do make sure not to let the two creatures be too close to each other. Who knows what might happen? A word of caution: much of the small statuary you find in garden centers will not stand up to years of winter weather. I take Griffin and Grotesque in every fall to assure that they'll be with me the following spring.
If I could have another protector in my garden, it would be the lion pictured here. Though sleeping, he exudes power and danger. Who would dare intrude if this majestic animal were resident in the garden? Alas, I won't be able to have him. He weighs over 3 tons and still sleeps in the gardens of Ismalaia, Egypt.
To quench your thirst for more knowledge about legendary guardians, visit this wonderful website for sculptor and stone carver, Walter S. Arnold.