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Little Sparta (Stonypath)


Little Sparta is an experimental garden set in the Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh. The garden is underpinned by themes and blends sculpture and poetry with the landscape. The garden contains over 275 artworks.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Location and Setting

Little Sparta is situated in the western foothills of the Pentland Hills above the valley of the South Medwin, some 25 miles south-west of Edinburgh and 7 miles north of Biggar. The house and garden have been developed from a small farmstead perched on the exposed moorland hillside at 920' (280m) above sea level. There are good views to the east and south from the top of the garden, but the garden itself is concealed from view from the road below.

Little Sparta covers about 9 acres (3.5ha); the house and its associated outbuildings, including the garden temple, surround a courtyard with a central pool. To the south of the house is the former walled garden and to the north of the courtyard are Lochan Eck and the top ponds.

Landscape Components

The Gardens

The front cottage garden was the earliest part of the garden to be developed and is still used for experiments though many of the exhibits have been made permanent, such as the wave poem. A series of corners contained by foliage surround the sunken garden and are the settings for inscriptions, word poems, different pathway surfaces, sundials and other 'incidents' or focal points, many humorous. The Roman garden, Henry Vaughan walk, Mare Nostrum, the old orchard, Pompeian Garden and the Siegfried Line are all contained within the old walled garden.

Classical themes extend to the Garden Temple and Temple Pool, and through the upper garden to Lochan Eck, and sails and boats appear in many guises around the gardens. Boat themes were a feature of Italian renaissance gardens also and are paralleled appropriately by more modern symbols such as 'nuclear sail'. The development in the top garden of more explicit representation of the classical tradition of landscaping and painting is characterised by the identification of landscape features with the styles of, inter alia, Corot, Poussin and Claude Lorrain. The garden contains continually changing vistas and surprises, with small-scale features and plantings which make it seem much larger than it really is, and yet it maintains its sense of enclosure and refuge.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


07826 495677

Access contact details

The garden is open on certain days of the week between May and September. For details see:


There is minibus transport from Edinburgh.


The Little Sparta Trust


The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

A world famous garden and an outstanding work of art. The sculptor and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay has created a unique blend of landscape, sculpture and poetry.

Site History

The gardens have been created entirely since 1967 when Mr & Mrs Finlay moved to the small farmstead of Stonypath belonging to Mrs Finlay's family. Ian Hamilton Finlay was by then internationally known as an innovatory writer of poems and short stories, as a forerunner in the field of image poetry and as a proponent of outdoor sculpture parks. His experiments in new poetic forms at his previous home at Ardgay in Easter Ross were to be continued at Stonypath and have led to commissions for his work at home and abroad, and particularly in Europe.

Work began at Little Sparta in 1967 with the diversion of water from the burn into the top of three ponds, and with the planting out of the front cottage garden. From the outset, visual poems were a part of the design, with the botanical interest and expertise being provided by Sue Finlay, the type and scale of the planting being sympathetic with the designs. Work progressed incrementally as time and money permitted: the buildings were in a dilapidated state and needed attention. In September 1970 work started on Lochan Eck and on extending the gardens to the north of the courtyard. A Doocot was installed into the roof of the west barn, which was restored in 1973 and converted into a gallery for the display of Ian Hamilton Finlay's work and for the sale of publications. Gradually this building has been adorned externally with classical pillars and a portico to fit the evolving neo-classical theme within the garden. This theme has been carried through within the barn's interior to create a garden temple. The garden has been opened to the public in recent years under the Scotland's Gardens Scheme; however it was closed this year due to 'The War' currently taking place between the Finlays and Strathclyde Regional Council over the rating assessment of the former barn as a museum/gallery rather than as a religious building, and in a broader context over the lack of establishment support for contemporary art in this country. According to some (writers), the War has affected not only public access to the garden but also has introduced more military symbolism within the designs.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland

Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland