The 5-acre garden in Dunsyre near Edinburgh was originally established in 1966, and was called Stonypath. It was renamed "Little Sparta" by Finlay in 1983 as a play between the historical rivalry between the Ancient Greek cities Athens and Sparta -- Edinburgh's nickname is the "Athens of the North". There are over 275 works by the artist, done in collaboration with masons and craftsmen, including concrete poetry in sculptural form, polemic, and philosophical aphorisms, together with sculptures and two temples.
Little Sparta was a twenty-three year collaboration between Ian Hamilton Finlay and his wife, Sue Finlay, who was in charge of the plantings. Together they established Little Sparta as an internationally renowned composition, a combination of avant-garden experiment, Scottish wit and whimsy and the English landscape garden tradition. In 2004, a poll of fifty Scottish artists, gallery directors and arts professionals voted Little Sparta as "the nation's greatest work of art" and art historian Sir Roy Strong has said that it is "the only really original garden made in this country since 1945".
We visited Little Sparta just before Finlay's death in 2006 and saw him pottering around inside his house. The garden is now owned by the Little Sparta Trust, which hopes to preserve the garden by raising enough to pay for an ongoing maintenance fund. It is an incredible place that is really worth visiting if you are in Scotland -- plan ahead as it is only open on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday afternoons, 2:30-5pm, from 4th June to 29th September.
Much as I coveted Little Sparta's Apollo, I had to settle for one that is much smaller, a stone discard from the garden center I covered with gold leaf. In the winter he's visible from the kitchen window. In the summer he disappears from view, seen only when you wander down a path in the woods and turn a corner.