Little Sparta

In early August we paid a visit to Little Sparta, the garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay. The garden is reached by a farm track which leads to a secluded spot on the edge of the Pentland Hills. It was designed by the late artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, and became a long-term project after Finlay moved to the cottage with his wife Sue Finlay in the mid-1960s.

I’d encountered Finlay’s work before, at an exhibition at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, some years ago. I remember seeing a video in that exhibition made around the house and garden at Little Sparta, and I’d wanted to visit ever since.

I can’t quite find the words to adequately describe Little Sparta, except to say that it neatly wraps together nature, art and culture in a way which invites a slow and contemplative exploration by the visitor. It is both sensory and thought-provoking, and it pays to be observant when wandering through the lanes and gaps between the different parts of the garden. There’s much to discover. I’m sure I didn’t see everything, and I’d probably see something different if I visited again. It’s great that the garden is still maintained and open to visitors in the summer, thanks to the work of the Little Sparta Trust.

Photographs reproduced by courtesy of the Estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay. For more information see and the guide book published by Birlinn, available here.