Welcome to Little Sparta

‘Apollon Terroriste’, 1987 (image, Andrew Lawson)

Set in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh, Little Sparta is Ian Hamilton Finlay’s greatest work of art. Finlay moved to Stonypath in the autumn of 1966 with his wife Sue and their six month old Alec, a baby daughter Allie would arrive the following year. Stonypath was a series of farm buildings on property belonging to Sue’s family – her father, Simon Macdonald Lockhart, having inherited the Estate of Lee and Carnwath after the war. In partnership with Sue, Finlay began to create what would become an internationally acclaimed garden across seven acres of a wild and exposed moorland site. Ian the poet-artist, Sue the gardener, ‘tending the poems’ as she puts it.

Collaborating with stone carvers, letterers and at times other artists and poets, the numerous sculptures and artworks created by Finlay, which are all integral to the garden, explore themes as diverse as the sea and its fishing fleets, our relationship to nature, classical antiquity, the French Revolution and the Second World War. Individual poetic and sculptural elements, in wood, stone and metal, are sited in relation to carefully structured landscaping and planting. In this way, the garden in its entirety is the artwork.

»Over 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.«

 Little Sparta contains over 270 artworks set into what Finlay described as ‘specific landscapes’: distinct areas within the garden, each with its own character and mood. The Front Garden is the original cottage garden of Stonypath and the first area to be developed. It retains the garden’s red currant bushes and raspberry canes. The Roman Garden is a tree-shaded corner in the Front Garden with pots of hosta plants set on an irregular grid of paving stones. Amongst them are six stone works on plinths, variations on the theme of warships and their modern airborne equivalents. Julie’s Garden is a secluded area sheltered on two sides by trees and on a third by a wall of the Temple building. It is named after the secret garden in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s sentimental  novel Julie, ou la Nouvelle Heloise. The Allotment & Kailyard are productive vegetable gardens on opposite sides of the Temple of Baucis and Philemon. The Temple Pool Garden, in some ways this is the centre of the garden, is is sheltered on three sides by the Hortus Conclusus and the two temples created from the old farm outbuildings, and on the fourth side by the artist’s house. The stillness of the pool is only slightly stirred by the small fountain that feeds it. The Woodland Garden adjoins the Temple Pool, its paths leading and turning to the rest of the garden. The Wild Garden climbs to the rear of the house, bordering on the hills beyond. Lochan Eck Garden fringes the open water with the monolithic Nuclear Sail rising over the scene. The English Parkland is a broad, open area, and the area of the garden to be developed.

Tragedies of Dido
‘Tragedies of the Dido Class Cruisers’, 1999 (image, Robin Gillanders)

 The Little Sparta Trust was established prior to Finlay’s death in 2006 with the aim of maintaining the garden to his exacting standards. The Trust also seeks to ensure the garden can continue to welcome visitors from around the world and be a site of reflection, inspiration and discovery. This website provides a range of resources for visitors to Little Sparta. It offers ways to explore the garden remotely and to learn more about Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden through audio, visual and archival material collated by the Trustees. Recognising the ongoing importance of Finlay’s work to many contemporary artists, writers and poets, the website also hosts projects developed by the garden’s first resident artists as part of the programme Sharing Little Sparta.

Further information on Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work can be found via the following links:

Arnolfini Ian Hamilton Finlay Weekend
Cass Sculpture Foundation
David Nolan Gallery
Gori Collection
Ingleby Gallery
Jupiter Artland
National Galleries of Scotland
Robin Gillanders
Scottish Poetry Library
Stuart Collection, San Diego
Tate Gallery
Victoria Miro