In 1966, Ian and Sue Finlay, who had met in Edinburgh two years earlier, moved to Stonypath, a hill farm on the edge of the Pentland Hills which was given to Sue by her parents, Simon and Catriona Macdonald Lockhart. The origins of the garden, however, go back earlier to their first house at Ardgay in Easter Ross, where their son Alec (Eck) was born, and where Ian developed his concrete poetry on paper or on free-standing cardboard into poems as objects in the landscape. Some prototypes were made in wood and a large pond was created on which Finlay sailed his toy barges.
Later, the couple settled at Stonypath, where their daughter Aileen (Ailie) was born in 1967. Stonypath was, at the time, a simple farmhouse and steading on the edge of the moor. To make the garden, flower borders were dug and trees planted by Sue, while Ian created ponds and a sunken garden. He also started his collaborations with stonemasons and letter-cutters of the highest calibre to make permanent outdoor works. In this way, over the next 25 years, the garden was developed -- corner by corner, poem by poem, vista by vista -- to provide the settings in which the works take their place.
After he and Sue had separated, Ian continued to expand the garden, adding to its works up to the end of his life, by which time the garden had doubled in size. Although it contains the work of many collaborators, each installation is clearly identifiable as a work by Ian Hamilton Finlay - the ideas, artistic concept, design and guidance are his. His concept of art is profoundly serious, pointing out the sometimes uncomfortably challenging nature of the Good, and mankind's duty in a civilised world. Equally, he is concerned with the definition of beauty and the acknowledgement of tradition in the best art of any time. At the same time his humour and fondness of the Cosy and Small imbue his works with tenderness.
Little Sparta takes its place in the great tradition of poet-philosophers' gardens stretching from Epicurus to William Shenstone.