A Tour of Little Sparta

Ian Hamilton Finlay

“Andrew Dickson visits Little Sparta, for 40 years the home and studio of Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay, who was also a poet, writer and gardener. Richard Ingleby, co-owner of the Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh, takes us on a tour of the garden in the Pentland Hills, which is filled with the artist’s work.”

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The Importance of the Garden

Ian Hamilton Finlay

The following writers have focused on the importance of Finlay’s conception of the garden and the experience a viewer has within Little Sparta.

Prudence Carlson revisiting nature for Flash Art

“At every turn along Little Sparta’s paths or in its woods, language — now plaintively, now aggressively — waylays the visitor. Plaques and tablets, benches, bridges, planters, column bases or capitals, urns and more all carry words or other signage.  This language, in relation to the objects upon which it is inscribed and the landscape in which it is positioned, functions in the end metaphorically to conjure up a radical space of the mind beyond sight or touch — a space stretching, in Finlay’s poetics, as far both as the Ocean, in all its possible meanings, and as Classicism’s mythical Golden Age.”

Fiona Watson (a hopeful Little Sparta gardener) for Harper’s Bazaar

“It’s an unsettling place, both protective and disruptive. One moment you move among the birch-trees where a set of pan pipes, half hidden in leaves, tells you: ‘When the wind blows/ venerate the sound’; the next moment you meet a stone tortoise on whose shell is written ‘panzer leader’… What are people meant to make of all this paradox?”

Jonny Bruce discussing Finlay’s garden in relation to Paul Nash  for the Financial Times

“Artists have the ability to infuse landscape and gardens with meaning; to engage us more deeply and to question our preconceptions. We are very comfortable with a certain set of expectations when it comes to gardens. One such is the idea of the garden as an escape; that, whether it is from the heat of the day or a family argument, the garden is somewhere to find peace. The artist-poet Ian Hamilton Finlay had no truck with this perception, writing: “Certain gardens are described as retreats when they are really attacks.””

James Campbell reviewing a Tate exhibition for the Guardian 

“It was an important principle of Finlay’s thinking that his garden, one of the wonders of 20th-century art, was not the idyllic creation that some well-intentioned admirers mistook it for. Rather it was, like all gardens, in a permanent state of revolution. Whereas the grove may be cultivated, nature, its governing force, is wild. “Life is full of problems,” Finlay wrote… “Not least the moles, which can RUIN a good garden-poem overnight.” Violent action is required, with hoe, spade, axe – or water pistol – to preserve a state of order.”

Image Credit: Flickr/ergonomilk