Sparta, poetry, philosophy, morality: gardening on a hillside!

Little Sparta

Little Sparta (Photo credit: Ergonomik)

Little Sparta: Art and Philosophy and….

Words fail how to describe this garden or art work. There are 275 pieces of artwork within a garden setting set into different areas on a steep hillside in the Pentland Hills.

It is very windy at this site but the sound of the wind in the trees is the sounds of the waves of the sea and many sculptures and words reflect this sea landscape.

Views around Little Sparta

Views around Little Sparta

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Whilst the garden is called Little Sparta, the words are in Latin not Greek as  you would imagine and all have a meaning that is as deep as your understanding. Sometimes French or German too… so all your knowledge of languages are tested and quite often we were lost to the meanings without our guide!

The garden is the creation of Ian Hamilton Finlay and is divided into different areas each with its set of connected work. It took the artist from 1966 when he arrived until the 2000s to create this space from what was there originally – which wasn’t much. It is called a ‘created landscape’ physical and of the imagination as the ideas and words are integral to each area. There are many levels to the work as your knowledge of the writer or Latin (!) can give you.

Interestingly Hamilton created another piece of work he called a Temple, which he then removed from Little Sparta and which was bought and is now displayed in another garden and sculpture exhibition at the Jupiter Art Garden where we also went.

I will quote the website here as it explains so much better than I can the role of the garden and its meanings:

Imbued with a high idea content, the garden is created from the artistic fusion of poetic and sculptural elements with those of the natural landscape which is shaped and changed to become an inherent part of the concepts realised at Little Sparta.

While works of art are commonly viewed in galleries, public parks and streets, museums and private houses, it is perhaps a unique achievement to have created a garden which is itself a major artwork encompassing within it both horticultural elements and individual works in such materials as stone, wood and metal.

Finlay’s intentions are moral and philosophical as well as poetic. The themes dealt with in the garden are those which underlie the structures of society. The French Revolution, pre-Socratic views of the nature of the world. The Second World War, the sea and its fishing fleets are among the sources of metaphor and image which are realised in the garden’s art works which now number over 275.

Little Sparta takes its place in the great tradition of poet-philosophers’ gardens stretching from Epicurus to William Shenstone.


4 thoughts on “Sparta, poetry, philosophy, morality: gardening on a hillside!

  1. Alison Moore

    It’s encouraging to know you’ve made it to Little Sparta. It’s an easy drive from here, and it’s on my list of places to visit for quite a while, but I’ve been put off by the website which warns that you have a half-mile walk up a steep track to reach it from the car park area. Since both hills and distances are beyond my lung and energy capacity, I’d love to hear how easy you found it to gain access and walk round.


    1. ukgardenfiend Post author

      Hi Yes it is steep climb up to the hillside on which Little Sparta is situated. Once you are there however, it is OK and there are places to sit – although not as many as I would have liked. The drive is unfortunate but apparently is the result of a dispute with the owner of the fields and thus is not paved or easy walking. I took it slowly and with 2 sticks! No disabled parking at the site as a result which is a shame…I guess you need to try the walk up and see how you go.. good luck!


    1. ukgardenfiend Post author

      Yes, I’ve read about it several times but never really thought about its location – assumed it was well off the beaten track. Well it is from London! Not so much if you happen to be staying in Scottish Borders though… I did feel my classical education was severely limited though..



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