Ian Hamlton Finlay and his wife Sue Finlay started the garden in 1966, calling it Stonypath but renaming it "Little Sparta" in 1983 in response to Edinburgh's nickname the Athens of the North and playing on the ancient rivalry between the Ancient Greek cities of Athens and Sparta. When we first visited the garden in 2005 Finlay was still living there, the garden has changed little since his death, still a marvelous interplay between avant-farde experimentation, Scottish whimsy and wit and English landscape tradition.
Finlay regard this 'garden poem' as his greatest work and defined the relationship between the poem-objecs and their surroundings: “Usually each area gets a small artefact, which reigns like a small deity or spirit of place. My understanding is that the work is the whole composition - the artefact in its context. The work is not an isolated object, but an object with flowers, plants, trees, water and so on".
It was his wife who planted and cultivated the majority of the garden and she described her husband's creative process in creating the concept of the garden in her memoir 'The Planting of a Hillside Garden': “The learning process. The love involved in this process. That loving absorption - the day to day tending of the poems. Their immediate surrounding areas, whether paved, grassy or covered with plants, always needed a lot of individual attention in the summer"