Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

LITTLE SPARTA (STONYPATH)GDL00265

Status: Designated

Documents

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Summary

Date Added
01/07/1987
Local Authority
South Lanarkshire
Parish
Dunsyre
NGR
NT 5339 48915
Coordinates
305339, 648915

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.

Importance of Site

A site included in the Inventory is assessed for its condition and integrity and for its level of importance. The criteria used are set out in Annex 5 of the Scottish Historic Environment Policy (December 2011). The principles are represented by the following value-based criteria and we have assigned a value for each on a scale ranging from outstanding value to no value. Criteria not applicable to a particular site have been omitted. All sites included in the Inventory are considered to be of national importance.

Work of Art

Value
Outstanding

The garden is an outstanding Work of Art in its present form and contains many examples of Ian Hamilton Finlay's work.

Historical

Value
Outstanding

Although a comparatively modern garden, Little Sparta has already found its way into the history books as an outstanding representative of its style and as the origin of ideas adopted elsewhere, eg Max Planck Institute of Physics, Stuttgart.

Horticultural, Arboricultural, Silvicultural

Value
Little

There is no Horticultural plant collection at Little Sparta.

Architectural

Value
High

There are no listed buildings, but the collection of ornamentation within the garden gives it high value in this category.

Scenic

Value
Little

Although there are fine views from within the garden, very little of the garden can be seen from the surrounding area.

Nature Conservation

Value
Little

The creation of the ponds has provided increased habitats for wildlife within the moorland surrounding area.

Archaeological

Value
Not Assessed

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.

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.

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.

References

Bibliography

Sources

Printed Sources

Stephen Bann, 1981, A Description of Stonypath,

J. Garden History Vol 1 No. 2 pp.ll3-144,

Yves Abnox, Ian Hamilton Finlay, 1985, Reaktion Books

Christopher Thacker, The History of the Garden.

CL, Oct 6th 1977

Glasgow Herald, Nov 15th 1985

About the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for the designation of buildings, monuments, gardens and designed landscapes and historic battlefields. We also advise Scottish Ministers on the designation of historic marine protected areas.

The inventory is a list of Scotland's most important gardens and designed landscapes. We maintain the inventory under the terms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We add sites of national importance to the inventory using the criteria published in the Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement.

The information in the inventory record gives an indication of the national importance of the site(s). It is not a definitive account or a complete description of the site(s). The format of records has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

Enquiries about development proposals, such as those requiring planning permission, on or around inventory sites should be made to the planning authority. The planning authority is the main point of contact for all applications of this type.

Find out more about the inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and our other designations at www.historicenvironment.scot. You can contact us on 0131 668 8716 or at designations@hes.scot.

Images

LITTLE SPARTA (STONYPATH)
LITTLE SPARTA (STONYPATH)
LITTLE SPARTA (STONYPATH)
LITTLE SPARTA (STONYPATH)
LITTLE SPARTA (STONYPATH)
LITTLE SPARTA (STONYPATH)
LITTLE SPARTA (STONYPATH)
LITTLE SPARTA (STONYPATH)
LITTLE SPARTA (STONYPATH)

Printed: 12/11/2018 20:26