Little Sparta is both a garden and a work of art. Set on the slopes of the Pentland Hills, twenty-five miles south of Edinburgh, it was created by Ian Hamilton Finlay and his wife, who moved to an abandoned farm there in 1966. Together they set about making a landscape garden, with temples, statues, grottoes, glades and a series of urns, columns, monoliths, temples, statues and headstones, many of them inscribed.
Since then Little Sparta has been extended and elaborated as a series of spaces, including seven different gardens, an allotment, and an area of ‘English Parkland’. It has also been a nursery for ideas for other projects executed elsewhere, including commissions for public and private gardens all over Europe. It has involved a growing network of collaborators: stonemasons, gardeners, sculptors, calligraphers, ceramicists, printmakers, photographers, artists and academics.
Much of Finlay’s work follows the classical tradition of the garden as a site of aesthetic and moral virtue, a place of retirement from the corruption of the world, but also a place from which to launch moral criticism. His imagery is focused on issues of power and conflict, in nature and culture: ‘Classical gardens deal in grave generalisations, modern gardens fussy particulars’. It is now recognised as a landmark garden of international stature.