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Little Sparta

Located on the southwestern slopes of the Pentland Hills 1¼ miles (2 km) west northwest of Dunsyre in South Lanarkshire, Little Sparta is an unusual garden, comprising poetry and sculpture set in a series of landscapes, mixing trees, plants and water. Fashioned from the derelict farm of Stonypath, it extends to 2 ha (5 acres) and has been described as the most important post-war British garden.

Little Sparta is the creation of poet and sculptor Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925 - 2006) and his ex-wife, who settled here together in 1966 and laid out the garden in sections over the succeeding 30 years. The landscapes range from the classical architecture of Greece and Rome, to an ironic scene from the Second World War, complete with minefield, machine guns, fighter planes and warships, mixed in with the greenery.

Situated on marginal wind-swept land, at a height of around 305m (1000 feet), the garden requires considerable maintenance due to constant weather damage, particularly in winter, and benefits from a full-time gardener. Open to the public by appointment, the garden receives up to 5000 visitors annually.

With characteristic disdain for authority and the artistic literati of Edinburgh (the Athens of the North), Finlay chose the name Little Sparta because Sparta was the traditional enemy of Athens. From 1978, Finlay was at the centre of a prolonged period of hostility, known as the Little Spartan War, with officialdom in the form of the Scottish Arts Council and the local authority which includes various attempts to seize art-works from his garden.

In 2000, ownership of the garden passed to the Little Sparta Trust, chaired by author and broadcaster Magnus Linklater (b.1942), to ensure it is maintained for future generations to enjoy.


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