Little Sparta Trust
The Garden
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Newsletter December 2016

In this edition of the newsletter...
George Gilliland talks about frost, flood and the absence of Phytophthera in the garden; Alexia Holt tells how we have worked with our partners to assess the first year of our residency programme; and don't forget to order a copy of the Little Sparta book for your special friends.

Trust news

from Alexia Holt, coordinator of the Sharing Little Sparta project

In November a number of Little Sparta's Trustees took part in an afternoon of presentations and discussion centred upon Sharing Little Sparta: the pilot project funded by Creative Scotland to increase public access to Little Sparta and to engage artists directly with Finlay's work through a new programme of research residencies.

The Trustees were joined at the Scottish Poetry Library by Thomas A. Clark, Peter Manson and Sarah Rose, Little Sparta's first artists in residence. Each artist spoke about their experiences at Little Sparta and the value of the residency to their individual practices. It was encouraging to hear how the prolonged access these residencies afford to the garden and to Finlay's library present a challenging and stimulating context in which to develop new work.

Colleagues from Edinburgh College of Art's Design Informatics department also presented the findings of their research in to public access and engagement at Little Sparta, focusing upon the ways in which appropriate digital technologies can be harnessed to enhance visitors' experience and understanding of the garden, both on site and remotely.

We are particularly grateful to the artists and to David Bellingham, Julie Johnstone, Chris Speed, Jane MacDonald, George Gilliland and Laura Robertson [editor's note: thank you Alexia] for participating in this event. The discussion will inform the next stage of Sharing Little Sparta and we are now looking forward to the second year of residencies and to continuing our work with Design Informatics in 2017.

Christmas is coming; time to tempt your friends and relatives with the fabulous Little Sparta book.

When you buy from the Trust, 100% of the cover price of £14.99 goes to conservation of the garden. Please follow this link and be sure to select the correct postage option for your delivery location.
We also have some Ian Hamilton Finlay limited edition items for sale in our Etsy shop.

Garden Diary - November 2016

George Gilliland

A further transformation - as the garden takes on the appearance of winter. The first frosts bring a ghostly white fuzziness to the trees and object forms - the ponds and loch freeze over - the air is cold and sharp.

The start of the month also brought blustery winds and most of the leaves have now fallen to the ground in a succession of bronzes and golds. Some gathered to be burned later on, while others left to form a mulch on the beds and understory planting.

A number of our trees have also been tested by Government Agency this month for Phytophthora ramorum - a foliage disease now prevalent under certain conditions in woodlands - a specimen larch cutting was taken away for examination, but fortunately we have been given the all clear.

The water source to the Temple Pond has silted up and frozen over also - it will just have to wait until it thaws and it can be got going again. In due course the ponds will be drained and cleaned as much as possible in advance of winter so that the cold weather at least has some benefits in repressing the regrowth of pond weed next season.

The wooden entrance gate for A Cottage A Field A Plough has been brought in and work begun on stripping it of old varnish. It will be cleaned back to a fresh surface and treated with oil so that it colours and ages more naturally when it is put back in position.

Some of the broken inscribed fishing and sailing boat pavers from the front garden have been taken for repair (schooner, yawl, billyboy, catamaran) - the remainder will also be repainted over the coming weeks. The carved lettering on the Azure & Sons sundial will be painted in to make it more legible where it has worn away. Most of the other painted inscriptions throughout the garden - on wood and stone - will also be refreshed where required.

Arrangements have been made for the removal of the designated trees in the Front Garden - a major intervention awaits.

With all the additional water from snow melt and defrosting there is a substantial run-off of water from the hills and through the garden - all of the aqueducts are gushing - the lower part of the English Parkland is temporarily flooded.

And while on clear days there is a crisp crunchiness… with the heavy rains this changes to a soft slushiness….  these are the sights and sounds of the season underfoot.

Newsletter November 2016

From this edition of the newsletter you can link to our new online archive of photos, video and other rare and historical material relating to the creation of Little Sparta. The Head Gardener's garden diary describes the end of our visitor season. And remember, you can support the conservation of Little Sparta and give a fantastic gift to a friend by buying a book from us.

Trust news - our digital archive is open

In the September edition of our newsletter, trustee Ian Kennedy described the work we are doing towards creating an online archive of materials connected to Ian Hamilton Finlay and Little Sparta. (Re-read it here.)

We are now thrilled to announce the grand opening of our Little Sparta's new online archive which is organised into four sections: Little Sparta in Photos, Little Sparta in Video, The Collaborators, and The ‘Other’ Archive.

We will be glad to hear any feedback about it, including corrections and new information on places or dates. As Ian said, the archive will never be complete, so we would also like to hear from our supporters and Finlay collaborators if you would like us to host any other materials that may be languishing unseen in digital space.
Christmas is coming; time to tempt your friends and relatives with the fabulous Little Sparta book.

When you buy from the Trust, 100% of the cover price of £14.99 goes to conservation of the garden. Please follow this link and be sure to select the correct postage option for your delivery location.
We also have some Ian Hamilton Finlay limited edition items for sale in our Etsy shop.

Garden Diary - October 2016

George Gilliland

The garden goes under wraps… as the annual transformation from display to the hidden takes place.

All of the small or delicate pieces are brought indoors, along with wooden works and benches to preserve them from the worst of the coming weather. 

The majority of pieces though are covered or wrapped in situ, taking on a completely different appearance and character. It is really a process of concealment and transformation - as boats and poems, obelisks and hand grenades are hidden under foam or sacking - even the newly rebuilt monument becomes an amorphous shrouded cube in a blue tarpaulin.

Repairs can now also begin and plans made for further pieces to be remade as part of our ongoing programme of improvements.

The Kailyard and allotment have been cleared out - and the rambling rose perimeter hedging cut back. Raspberry canes and blackcurrant bushes have been weeded out at the base and the plants tidied for next year.

The roses have been pruned in Julie’s garden - and the virginia creeper at the gable end of the house cut back from climbing over the roof and chimney stack - as its leaves turn to red and gold and fall like coloured hankies to the ground. 

As leaves fall it is also a chance to identify further tree branches for pruning - in particular to let light filter through into the front garden where it has become very shaded.

More substantial change is planned for the Bring Back the Birch area at the bottom of the front garden - a removal of existing sycamores and a replanting of geans (wild cherry) so that the visual and verbal pun makes sense. The one existing small birch tree here - which is currently out of place - will be moved to the Saint Just column base.

In the sunken garden the astrantia edging has been cut back to keep it in check from self seeding everywhere - the trees here are also to be removed and replaced with a new decorative cherry by the tall upright stone tree column base denoting Lycurge (Lycurgus - the legislator of Sparta).

In days of bright sunshine - longer fall the shadows from the mountains tall - for much of this month we have enjoyed the low late autumn light as it stretches out.

Other sure signifiers of the time of year are the sound of geese screeching overhead in V formations, wild ducks settling on the loch, and blackbirds feasting on bright bunches of rowan berries.

Now for the most part our mornings begin in frosty mistiness - the air clears and cools - the hills are shrouded in low cloud - there is a quiet stillness.

Newsletter October 2016

Little Sparta is closed for the winter, but the work of staff and trustees doesn't stop. In this edition of our newsletter there is another of Ann Uppington's fascinating essays on works in the garden; this time Wayfaring Tree 2 yds. And of course, there is George Gilliland's grass roots diary. You can also browse a selection of Finlay-related publications and perhaps put in an order for a gift for a friend while supporting conservation of Little Sparta at the same time.

Garden Diary - September 2016

George Gilliland

The light and the colour of the sky alters and we are in autumn. 

Throughout the garden continuing problems with the reliability of the water source seem to be under control. Repairs have been made to the aqueducts in the woodland and the lower pond in the English Parkland. Some subsidence of the pathway around the lower pond has also been built up and stabilised. By the top pond a couple of overhanging alders on the bank were causing some problems and have been removed. The banking around the aqueduct entrance has also been built up with sand bags as this was identified as a potential weak spot where we were losing water.

The spring source itself is now running well and where we were having problems with the Temple pond this is now brim full and almost opulent.

Julie’s Garden has been given a good weed out - the yews have settled in well apart from one in the corner which has yellowed and dropped its needles - hopefully just a blip in its development and it should recover. Nettles abound having seeded themselves from the outer entrance of the garden and the fields beyond, but are now back under control in this more formal setting. The entire perimeter of the back of the Temple of Apollo has also been weeded clear of willow herb, nettles and brambles.

In the Hortus and by the gable end of the house there are a few unexpected late blooms from the roses. The Cloud Pool in the Hortus has also been given a good clean out and the gravel and stone sets raked over and strimmed to keep them from being overgrown with weeds and moss.

The growing season is at an end apart from the grass which seems to have enjoyed the changeable conditions and still requires cutting and attention - where it is left to grow more informally now the swathes of seed heads catch the light like jewels and sway in the breezes.

The rebuilding of the Monument is finally completed with the slate top in place - it really does sit well in the landscape now and has a solid presence commemorating the Battle site. 

Patchwork repairs have been made to the heather thatching of the Goose Hut - the flowerheads of the new heather tufts look like camouflage patterns on the walls where they have been tied in - a somehow very appropriate intervention.

The autumn equinox has marked a definite switch in the weather - is is now much cooler with blustery winds and heavy showers, though there are still a few random glimpses of blue sky and bright sun.

One casualty of the high winds: the flag has blown down (undamaged, but it will remain in storage now until spring) - and one benefit: perfect conditions for the first big bonfire of the season, marking the closure of the garden to visitors, but only the beginning of further activity in it.

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Trust News

We are nearing the end of the first year of the Sharing Little Sparta project and the first three residencies have worked extremely well. Poet Peter Manson has spent a lot of time in Finlay's uncatalogued library at Stonypath, unearthing treasures and following leads, and blogging about his discoveries. Artist Sarah Rose (@sjarose on twitter) and poet Thomas A Clark have also begun their explorations at Little Sparta, and we will have news of their work in future newsletters.

In addition, and through our partnership with ECA and its Design Informatics Department, work is well underway on a review of the ways in which the public can engage with the garden and Ian Hamilton Finlay's work, considering new means of enhancing intellectual, creative and virtual access to Little Sparta.

Thank you
We are very grateful to everyone who visited Little Sparta in 2016, either independently or using our Four Fridays in August minibus. This year for the first time the Edinburgh departure point was the Scottish Poetry Library and we are very grateful to the staff there for providing information and reassurance to our visitors at the start of their journey.


The stone milestone ‘WAYFARING TREE 2 yds’, set high on the main curving path around the Wild Garden is on the way to the better known works ‘Fragile,’ ‘No Ripe Rasps’ and St. Just. Two paths diverge at this point off this main path; one down to the water and the other up to the moorland.

The milestone is a quiet, almost melancholic, work you might miss or pass by. A sign for the walker - Ian, Hamilton Finlay in his daily mapping of the garden in all weathers, after he fed the doves and pheasants and mended his fire.

The word “wayfaring “ comes from Middle English, waifaringe, journeying, and from Old English, wegfarende: weg, way. Another dictionary meaning of ‘way’ is a habit. Ian Hamilton Finlay with his Chambers dictionary and plant books by his side would surely have referenced the Latin word for wayfaring tree –viburnum lantana. The word viburnum is related to the French word viorne and also to viorna and the word road, via. The botanist John Gerard, writng in the 16th century saw viburnum lantana growing on "the journey over the chalk from London to Canterbury,” and he drew the conclusion that this small tree was “something which ornamented the way [Geoffrey Grigson in The Englishman’s Flora]. “Wayfaring” has echoes of the similar word “seafaring” and the memory of sea, twinning both thoughts of pilgrimage and adventure, steering by the stars, before automobiles and GPS navigation.

The wayfaring tree often found in old hedgerows, recalls a time when trees were landmarks for the walker and unpaved roads were old drovers paths or tracks. This small shrubby with its small creamy white clusters of blossoms in May and black berries in autumn makes good winter food for the thrushes and robins of Little Sparta.

The accurate measurement 2 yds reminds the walker of the very small distance to go - the joke is that you can see the viburnum from the milestone. This spatial miniaturization is reinforced in so many other works such as ‘Hic jacet parvulum quoddaam ex agua longiore excerptum ‘ ‘Here lies an excerpt from a longer water” comes to mind.

On now at The Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh

Exhibition – Ian Hamilton Finlay: Early Works (1958 – 1970)

11 October 2016 - 26 November 2016

Did you know we have an Etsy shop? We have a small selection of Finlay limited edition prints and some exhibition catalogues for sale. All the items have been donated to The Trust, so all profits go towards conservation of Little Sparta.

Finlay’s daily, sometimes twice daily footfall deepened the path. By the literal act of walking repeatedly the walker compresses the earth and subtly affects the topology. Walking is deepening in other ways. We notice small changes in the landscape and can use our daily rambles to clarify old thoughts and form new ones. This was probably so for Finlay, as detail and close observation were essential parts of his art.

Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in Confessions about walking “ when I stop I cease to think: my mind only works with my legs “. We talk about “the path of knowledge’. Little Sparta has many thought paths woven together, crossing and overlapping, We, each a passerby, may map and remap this complex garden in our mind’s eye long after our return home.


Ann Uppington

Newsletter September 2016

Don't miss out on visiting Little Sparta in 2016; remember our season ends at the end of September.
Trust News

Trustee Ian Kennedy explains our exiting website developments

Gary Ferguson, our web designer, and I have been working for some time on creating a new section for the website. It is not quite ready to be launched, but once launched, it will never be complete!

We are making an on-line archive of material to do with Ian Hamilton Finlay, to do with his ideas as a poet and an artist, to do with his wonderful garden at Little Sparta and to do with the many artists and craftsmen who collaborated with him in its making. I want visitors to the website to share this material, which will give great insights into the development of the garden, the creative process that went into its making and perhaps more importantly, the opportunity to see rare footage of Ian Hamilton Finlay talking about the garden and his personal development as a poet and artist.

We have been assembling historic material into four broad categories: “Little Sparta in Photos”, "Little Sparta in Video”, “The Collaborators” and “The ‘Other’ Archive”:-

1) You will be able to see two remarkable series of colour photographs documenting the garden in its early stages, taken by Michel Conan in July 1976 and again in early 1980’s. Perhaps the most striking feature of these early photographs is how colourful the planting was at that time. More photographs taken over the years by different photographers will be added to this section in due course.

2) In 1989 IHF gave an extended, extremely interesting and in places wonderfully funny interview to some visitors to the garden. As a start, we have taken a couple of extracts from this interview and these can currently be viewed on YouTube. Little Sparta in Video will in due course feature further sections of this interview together with other footage that becomes available.

3) As is well known, IHF had a close and productive relationship with his many collaborators and I hope to be able to to illuminate IHF's creative process by including material from as many of them as we can, including where possible correspondence and drawings.

4) The “Other” archive will contain articles and other material that tell the story of Little Sparta.

As you can readily appreciate, the scope to populate this Archive section of the website is endless!

Sharing Little Sparta

A project update from Alexia Holt

Little Sparta's first programme of residencies is well underway and we are pleased to have seen poets Peter Manson and Thomas A. Clark and visual artist Sarah Rose in the garden on many occasions during August and September.

All the artists are using the opportunity provided by the residency to spend time working in Ian Hamilton Finlay's extensive library and making visits to related archives held at the National Galleries of Scotland and at the Scottish Poetry Library.

Peter Manson will be the first to complete his residency this month: a wonderful series of posts, reflecting on Ian Hamilton Finlay's work, his library, the archives and Little Sparta, can be seen on Peter's blog.

For further information on Sharing Little Sparta, please contact the project coordinator, Alexia Holt -
An ideal gift, and if you buy it via our website, 100% of the cover price comes to the Trust.

Head Gardener's diary
August 2016

George Gilliland

The heady scent of heather fills the air in the moorland above the lochan -  and the bright purple flowerheads blaze amidst the greens and yellows of the grasses.

The hedges have been given a bit more attention preparing them for the end of the season - the large yew hedge at the top of the English Parkland has been trimmed back and the front perimeter hedging kept in shape. There is also a first cutting for the new yew trees in the Roman Garden and Julie’s Garden - these have established very well in their first year and are filling out nicely.

The crops in the Kailyard are now passing over and going to seed - apart from a few late flowerings of sweet pea, poppies, mint and bergamot.

The fruit canes are bare and straggly also. It has not been a great year for these soft fruits - so there have not been very many ripe rasps to fill the larder… There are though still a good few red and blackcurrants left on the bushes - the rest harvested or stripped by the birds.

The repaired Azure and Sons sundial has been returned - and by the Temple pond the scallop shell water source has had its lettering redone so that the carved letters of Goddess Shell are now fully legible. In the Front Garden the remade oak column sundial Be In Time Fruitful Vine has been installed back in place and looks well.

Most of the sapling trees have been repotted into larger containers to grow on - a good supply of vigorous and healthy specimens to be planted in place and fill any gaps next year.

On the moor beyond the garden the cattle have been giving us water problems by dislodging the pipes which run the water from the spring down the hill, trampling over where the pipes are jointed and breaking off the supply - this, along with an erratic supply from the source spring itself is something which needs regular intervention or repair.

At the same time the ponds have been generally quite full and have been cleaned out - the Top and Centre ponds in the wild garden weeded out again and the Temple pond banked up.

All along the water courses in the Parkland - by the edges of the burn and ponds - these have been cleared where the planting had closed over on itself. Meadowsweet, reeds, nettles and grasses cut back so that the movement of water can now be followed all the way down and we can see - (as IHF himself saw it) a - Bare stream racing like a Bugatti…

Winds more like autumn presage the leaves leaving the trees and the sea sound effects in the canopy are at their most stormy.

At least the flag flies full and heraldic at the entrance against the surrounding hills and the greying skyline.


Newsletter August 2016

In this edition find out who the first Sharing Little Sparta residents are. And of course, read our perennial Head Gardener's diary.

Sharing Little Sparta
- residencies announced

Alexia Holt

In February 2016, the Little Sparta Trust, working in partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) and the University of Edinburgh, received an Open Project Fund award from Creative Scotland. This award, coupled with support from the Monument Trust, made possible Sharing Little Sparta: a new project designed to improve and enhance access to Little Sparta, both for the public and for artists.

Over an 18 month period, Sharing Little Sparta will develop new ways for the public and artists to engage with the garden, enhancing intellectual, creative and virtual access through a wide variety of means. This pilot project will bring a new openness to Little Sparta, whilst maintaining the vital balance between what is an enjoyably secluded place and a work of international cultural influence. The project will also develop the range and number of ways in which the garden can be accessed, employing innovative digital technologies in formats which are appropriate to the exceptional context. In this way, Sharing Little Sparta will ensure the public and artists can engage with the garden fully both on site and remotely.

As part of this project, the Little Sparta Trust is launching a new programme of funded research residencies for visual artists, poets and writers based in Scotland.

This programme will create opportunities for artists to engage fully with Finlay's work and the ideas that informed and were generated by it. The residencies will enable the participating artists to take full advantage of supported access to Little Sparta and to the extensive collections of Finlay's work held at the National Galleries of Scotland and the Scottish Poetry Library. Although these opportunites are non-residential (accommodation is not provided at Little Sparta), the artists will be given supported access to the garden and to Finlay's library. Through these means, the residencies will provide the participating artist with a period of focused time for research and the development of new ideas.

For further information on Sharing Little Sparta, please contact the project coordinator, Alexia Holt -

Participating Artists

Following a nomination and application process, residencies of three weeks each have been awarded to: Thomas A.Clark (poet), Peter Manson (poet) and Sarah Rose (visual artist). The artists share a longstanding interest in Little Sparta and the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay and the residencies, which will begin in August 2016, will allow them to explore Finlay’s work further in relation to their own practices.

Sarah Rose (born London, 1985) is a visual artist based in Glasgow. Recent solo exhibitions include Difficult Mothers (SWG3 Gallery, Glasgow, 2016) and The Printer’s Devil (CCA/Intermedia Gallery, Glasgow, 2015). Hew work has been included in many national and international group exhibitions in centres such as Auckland, Edinburgh, Munich and New York. She has taken part in several acclaimed residency programmes, such as Hospitalfield Arts (Arbroath), Seoul Art Space (Korea) and a thematic residency led by Will Holder at the Banff Centre (Canada). She currently co-hosts tenletters, a publishing project based in Glasgow, and is part of the ongoing collaboration lightreading. Both of these projects are concerned with art, writing and publication. Rose graduated with a Masters of Fine Art from The Glasgow School of Art in 2012, and a Bachelors degree majoring in Fine Art and Writing Studies from the University of Auckland.

Thomas A. Clark (born Greenock, 1944) is a poet, editor and curator based in Pittenweem, Fife. His poetry collections include Farm by the Shore (forthcoming from Carcanet), Yellow and Blue (Carcanet, 2014), The Hundred Thousand Places (Carcanet 2009), The Path to the Sea (Arc 2005), Distance & Proximity (Pocketbooks 2000) and Tormentil & Bleached Bones (Polygon 1993). His involvement from he mid 1960s with the international concrete poetry movement led to close associations with Ian Hamilton Finlay, Edwin Morgan and Dom Sylvester Houedard. In 1973, with the artist Laurie Clark, he founded Moschatel Press, publishing work by Finlay amongst many others. In 1986 he and Laurie went on to launch the Cairn Gallery, specialising in Land Art, Minimalism and Conceptual Art. His work as Director of the gallery, now located in Pittenweem, and his association with artists such as Roger Ackling, Hamish Fulton and Richard Long, has directly influenced his most recent work and collections of poetry on Scottish landscape and culture.
Peter Manson (born Glasgow, 1969) lives in Glasgow. He is a poet and translator of poetry. His books include English in Mallarmé (Blart Books, 2014), Poems of Frank Rupture (Sancho Panza Press), Adjunct: an Undigest and For the Good of Liars (both from Barque Press), and Between Cup and Lip (Miami University Press, Ohio). Manson has delivered numerous talks and lectures on his work on Mallarmé and his publication Stéphane Mallarmé: The Poems in Verse (Miami UP) was shortlisted for the Poetry Society’s 2013 Popescu Prize. His poetry has appeared in many national and international anthologies and journals. Between 1994 and 1997 he co-edited eight issues of the experimental/modernist poetry journal Object Permanence, which published and reviewed a wide range of writing from the UK and North America. Manson has been invited to read from his work at many UK and international centres and festivals, including most recently Boise State University, Idaho (2016), Hi Zero (Brighton, 2016), Oxford Brookes University (2015) and the Universities of Bydgoszcz and Poznan, Poland (2010).
Trust news

Once again the sun shone on our annual garden party on 6 August. We rededicated the Monument to the First Battle of Little Sparta and marched behind piccolo-playing Lee Holland into the garden where, among other novelties, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art had made a display of documents relevant to the Battle: we thank Kirstie Meehan for bringing the items to us. Professor Stephen Bann introduced his new book of correspondence with Finlay between 1970 and 1972 - Stonypath Days. [Editor's note: we would love to see any photos people took on the day. Please send them to me, Laura Robertson -]

Head Gardener's diary - July 2016

George Gilliland

As the garden moves through summer there are plenty of regular and irregular tasks to be taken care of. 

Around the red and green Apollo and Daphne silhouettes, the laurel has been trimmed so that the figures do not entirely disappear into the undergrowth.

The rebuilt Monument on the track has been uncovered and the area around it reseeded with grass, but this will quickly naturalise to the more robust boggy plants which populate the banks of the burn.

The first fruits of the allotment and Kailyard are in evidence and being harvested and weeded in equal measure. The redcurrant and blackcurrant bushes are heavy with berries - an abundance awaits.

There is still water trouble with the supply to the house - something seems to have lodged itself in this section of pipe and will not be persuaded to move or decompose - just part of the continuing battle with an illogical system.

The box hedging in the front garden and Temple garden has been trimmed and looks sharper - all the other hedging will also be cut back again as it puts on prolific spurts of new growth.

The parterre in the Hortus has also been given another good tidy, the roses here need plenty of support as they begin to flower and require constant dead-heading.

Heavy rainfall has meant the edges of the narrow grass pathways have again closed in with meadowsweet around the loch and sweet cecily in the garden flopping to the ground. These, and our old enemy Rosebay willow herb have been given a selective removal and thinning out in all areas, including the hill above the loch by the Saint Just stones.

Repairs are finally being made to the damaged sections of the Hand Grenade gate finials which were assailed by a falling tree earlier in the year. At the same time repairs are being completed for the base of the Shadow n. column sundial at the top of the hill. The gnomons on Dividing the Light and Four Seasons in full Sail sundials have also been reset in their respective positions.

The slate Azure and Sons sundial has been taken away for re-carving some of the corroded lettering, and, as for the others, the missing stainless steel gnomon of this work will be replaced.

It has again been a month of many seasons - the erratic weather changes from day to day and hour to hour - somehow appropriate in a garden which marks the passage of time in so many different ways.

Newsletter July 2016

Little Sparta Trust - news & events

This year our fund raising garden party will be on Saturday 6th August. Details of the day are not yet finalised, but there will be a buffet, a talk by Professor Stephen Bann about his correspondence with IHF at the beginning of the 1970s, music & video, and a chance to see the recent renovation work on the monument to the first battle of Little Sparta. Booking is essential for this event, so please follow this link for lots more information.

On the Four Fridays in August you can come to Little Sparta by minibus from Edinburgh. Our friends at the Scottish Poetry Library have kindly agreed to supervise the departure of the minibuses at 1.30 pm each Friday in August. Follow this link for full details of the trip.

The trustees are very grateful to Finlay's executor for permission to open the garden on Saturday afternoons in July, for the first time since the Trust began managing access. You can now visit between 2.30 and 5pm without pre-booking, although tickets are also available here. We would appreciate it if all our supporters would help spread the word about the Saturdays in July.

We are pleased to confirm that Little Sparta's first programme of residencies for artists - developed as part of the Creative Scotland supported project 'Sharing Little Sparta' - will be announced at the end of July. We will award two residencies in 2016, enabling Scotland-based artists - speciailsing in both poetry and the visual arts - to spend a prolonged period of time working at Little Sparta and with the collections of Ian Hamilton Finlay's work held at the National Galleries of Scotland and the Scottish Poetry Library. We would like to thank all the artists who have submitted proposals for these residencies this year.
Little Sparta hosted both staff and students from Edinburgh College of Art's Design Informatics Department on 27 June. Many of the students were visiting Little Sparta for the first time and we would like to thank George Gilliand for giving such an informative and enjoyable tour of the garden. As part of 'Sharing Little Sparta', the Trust is working with a team of specialists from this department on the development of new means of engaging audiences in the garden both on site and remotely. We look forward to working with all the staff and students over the coming year.


Ann Uppington

A visitor in the summer of 1997 passing a rowan tree near the old allotment might have noticed some subtle markings on the rowan's sinewy trunk that seemed oddly real as if the tree was in a glade and patches of light had penetrated through the uniform shade of the Woodland Garden. Was the staining was a new form of lichen? Had we been tricked by the illusion of light? The markings turned out to have been painted at Ian Hamilton Finlay's request by his friend, artist Janet Boulton.

At Christmas 1997 Ian Hamilton Finlay sent as a gift a book called HIGHLIGHTS that he made with Janet and the photographer Robin Gillanders. There were 250 copies of the book printed and bound by Colin Sackett. The book was divided into four sections with three black and white photographs of painted highlights on branches and tree trunks around the Temple Pool and Woodland Garden. Inside the book was written 'A Homage to André Derain'and the definition,

Highlight, n. a mark, sign, or medal awarded by the light.

Janet often visited to paint in the garden. She liked to be there when the trees were not in leaf. This mark of light on the rowan recorded in HIGHLIGHTS arose out of conversations Janet and Ian had around the kitchen table about their admiration for André Derain's use of light, especially in his later paintings. Janet writes particularly about Derain's Bacchante of 1945 where the entire composition of cavorting figures [in a glade beside a stream] is delineated in highlights.

Janet arrived in the spring of 1997 with 400 ml paint pots of red, yellow ochre, blue, black and white acrylic paint and house-painting brushes. Janet writes 'Mixing the colours was surprisingly tricky - each tree had its own tone and the colours of the bark ranged from soft, smooth green greys of the rowans through to the rough surfaces of black on the fir trees. Finding the right pitch so that the highlight belonged to each tree was not imposed in an arbitrary way and yet at the same time were clearly visible was another challenge. Many buckets of water were thrown to erase an unsatisfactory image and towels deployed to dry the tree lest the paint ran too much.'

Time passes. Today, almost thirty years later the 'highlights' have disappeared. There is no trace of paint on the trees because of the swelling and expansion of the trunks and Little Sparta's harsh weather. There is just a memory of this small and hidden work and a book.

Memory and change may be interlocked: Janet, Ian and Robin's work giving 'light' where light was limited, has prefigured a small transition in The Woodland Garden today. Selected pruning and some tree removal of particularly the Lawsoni Cypress have brought light and a glade-like feeling to parts of this area. Patches of native blue bells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, have returned around the edges and other wild flowers have appeared. Strawberries have been replanted and, who knows, foxgloves may seed themselves again as they did in the past.

Perhaps Janet will come back one day to remake this fragile and elegant work.

In the woodland garden the inscribed pavers of the 'pretty' path have been repainted bright and new amidst the glooms and shadows.

Garden Diary June 2016

George Gilliland

Its been a very mixed bag of a month with heavy showers scattered with occasional flashes of blue sky. Typical Scottish summer I suppose.

The lochan has been restocked with about two dozen brown trout  - if the heron or the otter do not get them, then we can hopefully sustain a healthy population.

In the woodland garden the inscribed pavers of the 'pretty' path have been repainted bright and new amidst the glooms and shadows.

A general clearance of overgrown branches and other prunings have been disposed of with a midsummer bonfire.

All of the ponds have been weeded out again  - the top, middle and Claudi pool in the woodland - and the Temple garden pool. Here the water supply continues to puzzle, but a repair to the Caddis shell supply point looks as if it might in part help the situation. Just a question of monitoring the loses and gains of water from source to outlet.

There has also been a bit of a struggle with the water supply to the house - an airlock in the pipe from the reservoir tanks has been cleared and all is running freely again.

Grass continues to grow almost as quickly as it is cut - the wet and warm conditions ideal for it to thrive - both where it is wanted and not welcome.

The same conditions have also meant plenty of weeding - of ground elder, nettles, and so forth. The paths have also been cleared of overgrown sweet cicely as it flops with the wet and blocks passage through the narrow walkways. There has also been a thorough tidy of the Hortus enclosed garden and cloud pool areas. Roses have been staked and tied up here, and in the front garden also camouflage poles have been used to support the creamy plumes of Goat's Beard flowers. An unexpected flash of artificial colour and pattern amidst the green borders.

The Girl into Reed tree plaque has been moved in the woodland to a new position by the centre pool - easier to read and in scale and harmony with its surroundings.

Building work on the monument proceeds slowly but surely. There have been a few hiccups with design and timings but hopefully all should be resolved and come together soon.

A prototype flag has been flown from the pole at the entrance - the black outline of the Lyre and the blood red Oerlikon gun declare the presence of Apollo in the garden - his music, his missiles, his muses A few design tweaks and it can take its permanent place.

One other incident to report - an intrusion by some curious calves into the English Parkland via the compost heap - luckily turned back in time before they had the chance to cause any damage or invite their friends and families in - the damaged section of fencing has now been repaired and we are fully secure again.

The lochan has been restocked with about two dozen brown trout - if the heron or the otter do not get them, then we can hopefully sustain a healthy population.

Newsletter June 2016

All is in place for the opening of the visitor season, as the garden celebrates its 50th year.

Edinburgh Reads

Little Sparta Trust chairman, Magnus Linklater will be giving a talk at Edinburgh Central Library on Wednesday 15th June at 18.30h. A little bird tells us that this free event is already fully subscribed but that there is a reserve list.

In February this year, the Little Sparta Trust, working in partnership with Edinburgh University, the National Galleries of Scotland and the Scottish Poetry Library, was one of 90 successful applicants to receive an Open Project Fund award from Creative Scotland. This award, coupled with support from the Monument Trust, will make possible Sharing Little Sparta: a new project designed to improve and enhance access to Little Sparta, both for the public and for artists.

Sharing Little Sparta

Over an 18 month period, Sharing Little Sparta will develop new ways for the public and artists to engage with the garden, enhancing intellectual, creative and virtual access through a wide variety of means.The project will bring a new openness to one of Scotland’s most important public artworks, whilst maintaining the vital balance between what is an enjoyably secluded place and a work of international cultural influence. The project will also develop the range and number of ways in which the gardens can be accessed, employing innovative digital technologies in formats which are appropriate to this exceptional context. In this way, Sharing Little Sparta, will ensure the public and artists can engage with the garden fully both on site and remotely.

As part of this project, the Little Sparta Trust will launch a new programme of funded residencies for visual artists, poets, writers and performing artists based in Scotland, providing supported access to Little Sparta and the collections of Finlay’s work held at both the National Galleries of Scotland and the Scottish Poetry Library. Two three-week residencies will be awarded this year, one to a poet and one to a visual artist. The participating artists will be announced in July.

Trust news

Little Sparta's visiting season has just begun and early bird visitors have been rewarded with brilliant sunny afternoons with temperatures of around 21 degrees C. Inevitably the forecast shows that this bliss won't last very much longer, so it will be back to the usual advice of come prepared to be outdoors in Scotland whatever the weather.

At the very end of May we had two preseason visits from academic groups: Professor Andrew Patrizio (one of our trustees) brought a group of his students from Edinburgh College of Art, now part of Edinburgh University. We also had a repeat 'Grand Tour' visit from horticulture and classics students at the University of Georgia (USA), who each year spend three weeks in Europe visiting cultural highlights - we are very proud to be in their itinerary.

Supporters are already asking when the summer event will be this year. Please pencil in Saturday 6th August as the provisional date, but keep checking back as we hope to incorporate a book launch into the event - more details next time.

Garden Diary - May 2016

George Gilliland, Head Gardener

After the vagaries of last month's weather we seem to have moved fully headlong into spring. A few weeks of bright warm days brings a rush of growth and all of the plantlife begins to look fresh and verdant.

A few more of the pathways and brick patio areas in the Temple garden have been renewed, the existing bricks being beyond repair or reclamation. This work will continue until we open for the season. They blend well with the existing palette and it is good to be finally replacing these scruffy sections.

For other paths and throughout the garden - the grass has begun to perk up and after a few cuts is looking good - some reseeding has been required in worn patches and shaded areas, and will hopefully germinate and establish before being trampled over by too many feet.

All of the box hedging topiary pieces and the hedges of Huff Lane have been given an initial trim and kept in shape for the summer.

Around the loch wildflowers and grasses have also been sown, but here will take a while to for these areas fully recover from the large amount of silt which was brought out and dumped during cleaning of the loch itself. The paths and edges of the waterway themselves are stabilised but just a bit bare for the moment.

Everything is readied now for the Monument to be rebuilt - just a question of coordinating builders and suppliers and getting it all done. 

Intermittent water supply to the Temple pond and its disappearance continue to puzzle. There is plenty of water from the source but the level just seems to seep away and then refill - it is kept topped up as much as possible by a supply from top pond. The warm spell means more weeding is required in all of the ponds as conditions have been ideal for regrowth of elodea and its compatriots here too.

In the Hortus the rose beds have been underplanted with nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ (catmint) which should give an effect similar to lavender but without all of the trouble we have previously experienced. A row of nepeta has also been planted along the allee of redcurrants in the front garden, bringing a bit of colour and structure to this central axis of the garden.

The greenhouses have been emptied of much of the seedlings brought on for the Kailyard, which has been planted out with rows of beans, courgettes, rocket, swiss chard and salads - hopefully we will get a good crop of produce by the end of the summer.

All is in place for the opening of the visitor season, as the garden celebrates its 50th year.

 Bon anniversaire Little Sparta!

The renewed brick pathways blend well with the original palette.
A surprising colour splash.
Mare Nostrum plaque reinstalled in the front garden.

Newsletter May 2016

As we prepare this edition of the newsletter we have just enjoyed the hottest day of the year so far. What a contrast to the month of April our Head Gardener George Gilliland had to cope with. You can read all about it in his Garden Diary. Also in this edition Ann Uppington reminisces on the creation of the English Parkland, one of the youngest areas at Little Sparta. [Laura Robertson, editor]

Garden Diary April 2016

George Gilliland

Not quite the cruellest month, but April has proved a bit of a challenge presenting us with just about all of the seasons in one day. By its end we are fully covered in snow having experienced balmy sunshine, freezing rain and hail.

But in amongst all of this much has progressed. Everything has now been uncovered and brought out of storage. Only a few minor damages were found on the artworks; the columnar sundial shadow n. the hours hand at the top of the moorland - a small section of the base has come away (it is sitting in very boggy ground and probably caught a late frost), but this is easily repaired.

The Claudi bridge and cube form have been repainted and look particularly fresh and striking against a white background.

The lochan has finally been dug out and the weed and silt removed - a bit disruptive but hopefully the ground around the pathway edgings will recover by early summer.  All of the waste has been disguised as best as possible where it was dumped and these areas will be seeded over so that they blend quickly again back into their surroundings. The good news is that we may not have to take this radical approach again as there is now the possibility of using a specialist weed-cutting boat. Once it has refilled and settled, the lochan will also be restocked with brown trout.

In the woodland, the brick pathways have been extended in the shady areas where, in spite of our best efforts, no grass would grow. These do look fitting in place and actually enhance this area which looked a bit gloomy and worn.

By the entrance area new trees have been planted along the perimeter edge, eventually forming another windbreak and screen behind the oil tanks. These have been seeded underneath with a wildflower mix which again will hopefully make it through the downturn in weather.

New trees have also been planted throughout  the garden, some of which are a silver birch beside Henry Vaughan in the front garden, an alder by the square column at the western boundary of the wood (restitit et magno cum love templa tenet), poplars on and around the ile des peupliers, and a fan-trained espalier cherry in Julie’s Garden.

In the greenhouses all plants which were in storage have been put out and vegetable seeds have been sown for the new season in the Kailyard.

In the Kailyard itself new brick paths have replaced the old worn wooden boards and turf - it looks much more presentable and ready for action. A new brick pathway now also gives level access from the front garden to this area.

Work has begun on the brick paths in the Temple garden with suitable clay pavers which are a close match for the old Scotch common bricks previously used and talked about in the last report. These will at least stabilise these areas and be in keeping with the original intention and effect.

When all has thawed these works will continue….

Little Sparta has once more been included in Peter Irvine's Scotland the Best.

Ralph Irving and the making of
the English Parkland

Ann Uppington

Ralph Irving retired as Little Sparta’s head gardener in 2013/14. He had worked alongside Ian Hamilton Finlay for over twenty years meeting him on a daily basis in the garden to discuss projects and the ongoing maintenance of the garden. Ralph had responded to an advertisement Ian placed in The Scotsman and came to work with Ian in the early 1990s and maintained and installed many new works at Stonypath/ Little Sparta. For several summers he worked at Fleur d Air, the garden in the South of France, named after the Windflower, the anemone. After Ian ‘s death with the help of John Brazenell he worked on the demolition and transformation of the ruined barn into The Hortus Conclusus under Pia Simig’s supervision. But Ralph’s major achievement is the part he played in the creating of the English Parkland, not just preparing the sites for the installations but in the transformation of the landscape and the drainage of the marshy wet soil of the donkey pasture amongst the thistles (which Ian called Assyrian warriors), grasses, rushes and Meadow Sweet.

In a conversation recorded in 2008 on the Waterways of Little Sparta, Ralph describes the land in the donkey pasture as “full of meadow sweet and pretty wild...nettles which were shoulder high”. [Nettles were something Ian and he shared an active dislike of.]

Ralph explains that he ordered a small digger: “We had the digger for the pipes – the new water supply for the house and had to dig out a trench all the way down from the top of the hill...let’s have some fun with the digger before it goes back- it is here now, we paid for the transportation, let's dig a couple of new ponds. That is what started off the English Garden.”

Thus the process of the making of this new garden came about almost by accident, through the availability of the digger and their daily meeting. The 'possibility' of the English Parkland may have become apparent the time the new ponds were dug.

Robin Gillanders interviewed Ian for his book of photographs Little Sparta, Portrait of a Garden for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The book was published in 1998, during the making of the new garden and coincidentally out of the twenty nine works in the English Parkland the greatest number - nine works - are dated 1998 and five the following year 1999.

Robin Gillanders: “Ian, I would like to talk more about the garden and why you spend so much time and energy on it . . .”
IHF: ”Basically because it was a possibility – the ground was there and so there was the possibility, and I like to realize possibilities. That was the main thing at the beginning. And then of course you get interested and it makes its own propositions to you. But there is also the magic in changing a bit of the world – I really like that - I really like that feeling – more satisfactory to me than just painting a picture . . .”

The making of the English Parkland was not without its setbacks for Ian and Ralph. Ralph remembers,  “We tried planting the orchard in there but there was no protection.” Cold winds from north and east stunted the orchard’s development and surviving trees were moved to different parts of the garden.

Ian and Ralph had more success with Huff Lane but this area had problems as well, "Generally we tried everything to get a hedging effect up - apples, brambles, beech trees again, [and] poplars. It was a case of survival of the fittest to eventually create the enclosure."

When Ralph planted the outer boundary hedge of poplars Huff Lane had shelter and thrived.

Ian had worked as a labourer on Rousey, in the Orkneys in the 1950s. He had made the early paths and ponds in the garden. Wellingtons and spade were as much his tools as paper and pen. The English Parkland made at the end of his life was something Ralph had to do for him. Ralph was his hands.

The English Parkland as it evolved pays homage to both Capability Brown, the 18th century landscape designer and the poet William Shenstone 1714-1763 of The Leasowes, Halesowen. There is wheelbarrow in the garden dedicated to “W. Shenstone” from 1998 and an earlier stone bench (1991) in the Front Garden with three lines inscribed. The last line reads “Brown made water appear as WATER and lawn appear as LAWN”. Exactly.

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Newsletter March/April 2016

In this edition of the newsletter we introduce Alexia Holt, co-ordinator of the newly-funded Sharing Little Sparta project; George Gilliland's diary contains a photo of a poetic calamity; and Ann Uppington gives a look behind the scenes at the work of conserving Little Sparta.

Garden Diary March 2016

George Gilliland

At last we seem to have turned the corner into spring with bright brisk clear days interspersed with showers from dark grey cloud-laden skies. From things being halted by the weather, its changing now brings about a rush of activity.

One big job completed is the jet-wash cleaning of all paths and patio areas. Most surfaces are cleared of moss and green - though others are left deliberately to age and soften. Works in storage have been cleaned - the wooden benches as usual treated with teak oil and the painted carved stone baskets freshened up. The new flag pole as been installed at the front entrance.

None of the artworks in the garden has been uncovered though - their unveiling is being left as late as possible this year to prevent any damage from late frosts and to monitor how they have come through the winter months. In the meantime patch repairs are continuing, so that all walkways should be level and sound by the time the garden opens again.

There is still some residual damage from the bleaker weather. In the centre pond in the woodland - L'Ile des Peupliers - the island itself was uprooted as the tree collapsed over. There was no way of saving this so the tree has been cut down and will be replaced by a new specimen - it might take a few years growth though before the tree plaque can be hung in position again.
The garden itself is showing plenty of signs of regrowth and renewal with drifts of snowdrops throughout, and carpets of yellow aconites setting off a golden glow - bright highlights in the dark earth. Daffodils are also starting to push through - and we are beginning to see buds forming on all the shrubs and trees - sure promise of a rush of growth ahead.

Frozen or flooded conditions have still meant no work in lochan, but the top pond has been drained and cleaned and refilled. So too the Temple pond - which is now alive with hoards of burbling croaking mating frogs.

Finally another item to do with 'frogs - this time the indent found in the moulding of a brick. The long standing work on repair of pathways has met with another unexpected obstacle - the main brick Finlay used was a Scotch Common made locally (in Carluke). These also have the lettering of the maker impressed on the inner surface - GISCOL - easy enough to identify however the company which manufactured them went out of business some years ago and the modern equivalent (as with so many things!) is just not the same. It seems they are also very difficult to source as architectural salvage, so this has turned into a bit of a quest.
So, if anyone happens to know of a supply of such reclaimed Scotch Common bricks please do get in touch - they would be most gratefully received! Our email address is at the bottom of this newsletter.

Trust News

We are delighted to announce that, from 1st April, Alexia Holt has agreed to be project coordinator for Sharing Little Sparta. The project - aimed at raising awareness of the "remarkable creation" as well as improving access, staging residencies, exhibitions and other events - is funded by a Creative Scotland grant.

Trustee Andrew Patrizio said: "Alexia is highly experienced across all the areas we need, particularly in working with artists and funding bodies."

Alexia Holt is an independent curator and producer. She has worked for
Cove Park since 2004 where she produces its programme of visual arts residencies and commissions. From 2012-1015 she was Curator for the Scottish Print Network and developed Below another sky, an international programme of residencies, exhibitions and events from Scotland's five print studios. Prior to these roles she was Visual Arts Officer for Tramway in Glasgow, commissioning new work from artists such as Martin Boyce, Pipilotti Rist and Tatham & O'Sullivan. A graduate of Glasgow University's History of Art department, she has a PhD on Coco Chanel's early twentieth century dress designs.

How does the garden grow?
The Conservation Management Plan

Ann Uppington

"A garden is not an object but a process" - IHF

This year on Friday 10th June 2016 the garden group will meet at Little Sparta. Our group consists of our head gardener George Gilliland, two Little Sparta trustees Patrick Eyres and Ann Uppington, Andrew Townsend, architect and Finlay collaborator and David Rae, formerly of the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden. The group meets at least once a year and was created as a result of Garden Conservation Management Plan completed in 2013.

The Con Mag Plan as we call it came out of a collaboration between the Little Sparta Trust and Debois Landscape Survey Group and was the beginning of a process - the garden’s refurbishment after its founding in 1966. The mandate of the garden group is to oversee and pinpoint areas of work - ‘gentle interventions’ in the garden each year to restore it especially in the oldest areas around the house and report back to the Little Sparta Trust for funding for projects.

The 2013 Plan was supported by a grant from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. Debois drew up a scaled plan, siting all the planting groups and works within Little Sparta, delving deeply into the garden’s history and development with writing from Sue Swan and Graeme Moore on the concept and plantings. Nick Benge of Water Gems undertook a study of the waterways. All this information was funneled into a gazetteer that considered each area of the garden and the settings of the works.

Water Gems, very soon after the completion of the plan was able to start work on the restoration of the lochan and reconstruction of the sluice. So with our first large project completed and more grants coming in we have been able to fund more projects and most recently the work mentioned by Patrick Eyres in his writing for the Spring 2016 issue of The Gardens Trust News.

John Phibbs in his introduction to the Conservation Management Plan said:

"It will not be possible, and it might not be a good idea, to tie a gardener, or indeed a curator, down too prescriptively to the maintenance and management of the property. This will be at odds with the way the garden has developed hitherto. Control over the garden should be trolley bus rather than tram style, for unexpected opportunities will occur and one should take advantage of them.

Reconstruction of the sluice in 2013.

The Plan has been a catalyst for change and unexpected opportunities have occurred to fund the change. We are building a ‘community’ around the garden with new members on the board of trustees and help in various forms, from garden volunteers, donations and bequests from friends of Little Sparta - such as Kristina Taylor, who organized our summer party in August 2015, and donations from such trusts as The Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust and most recently The Monument Trust. The trolley bus is moving. So please watch this space!
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Newsletter February 2016

In this month's Little Sparta Trust newsletter we announce some exciting funding news, there is the usual fascinating insights of the Head Gardener's diary, plus another of our occasional flora & fauna series by trustee Ann Uppington.

The Little Sparta Trust - funding news

The Trust is delighted to announce that it has been successful in its application to Creative Scotland for funds to develop access to, and improve appreciation of, Little Sparta.

The application, under Creative Scotland's 'open project funding' scheme, was aimed at enhancing access to the garden, staging artists' residencies, small exhibitions and other events, both for the public and for arts practitioners, so that awareness of Ian Hamilton Finlay's remarkable creation and its growing influence in the arts world is properly recognised.

Trust chairman, Magnus Linklater, exlained, "We will be announcing over the next few weeks how the grant is to be used, and the ways in which we hope it will greatly improve the public's enjoyment and appreciation of Little Sparta."

Magnus will be speaking about Little Sparta on Saturday 20th February at the Pitlochry Winter Words Festival.
Storms Gertrude and Henry brought snow, winds, heavy rain and squally showers as well as some bright days.

Head Gardener's Diary - Jan/Feb 2016

George Gilliland

There has been no change to the unpredictable pattern of weather - the tail end of storms Gertrude and Henry bring snow, winds, heavy rain and squally showers as well as some bright days. This means also a continuation of the difficult conditions in the garden.

Luckily this time there is no damage to report, but access via the track through potholes and puddles is still a challenge - there will be a fair bit of repair work to be completed here, but again, no point in proceeding until the spring arrives and the weather settles.

What work can be done in the the garden around the saturated ground conditions has been completed. In Julie’s Garden the new yew hedge has been planted - the difference in this area is now is striking. The garden is bright and the perimeter in scale and will form a tidy backdrop to the artworks once they are replaced there. All of the oil tanks have been camouflaged with netting and trees are ready to be planted on the outer edge of the garden entrance which had been hidden from view before. This area which has served as rough storage for old stone and as a dinghy graveyard will be tidied up and in a sense now be embraced by the rest of the garden.

Yews have also been planted in the Roman Garden in a short line at the entrance by the Ledoux column and a further group in the curved bed here which serves as the backdrop to the aircraft carrier works. Some of the snow berry has also been taken out of this section and a continual gradual replacement of the cypresses with yew is planned around the Hypnos herm to form a more architectural niche as setting for this work.

There are now a good number of whips planted to make a tree nursery - including Scots pine, sweet chestnut, sessile oak, goat willow, alder, rowan and blackthorn - a bit of long term planning to fill spaces and reestablish other open areas.

The water levels have still meant putting off some jobs, but fortunately there has been no further substantial flooding.

Piles of recycled bricks await the repair work on pathways throughout the garden - and where grass has shown no signs of recovery in the woodland brick pathways will be extended here also, so that rather bare muddy ground at least there will be a firm footing for passage. 

Cleaning is about to begin on the stone path and patio areas - and in a first sign of better days ahead, snowdrops are beginning to show their heads above ground as small beacons of spring.

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Snowdrops: a small obsession

Ann Uppington

Outside Sue Swan’s former home in the village of Dunsyre you can see in February the results of her snowdrop planting, spilling out of the garden alongside the hedgerows. Sue planted Galanthus nivalis - Galanthus is Greek for Milk flower, nivalis is Latin, meaning ‘of the snow’.

At Little Sparta during February the same snowdrops Sue planted in the Front garden from 1966 onward have spread and multiplied. Snowdrops spread by division of little bulblets and in good years by pollen dispersal. They are a rash of tiny bell flowers set against the wet dark of the bare trees and their pure whiteness lifts the low light of late winter afternoons.

These little bulbs that please us so much are often the first sign of the spring after the turning of the year. Their nature is paradoxical and to some extent mysterious as snowdrops can turn up in unexpected places such as church yards, under brambles, on sites of abandoned houses, or they spread in large drifts along river banks and gather under old trees and ancient orchards. They are strangely feral but also of the garden and their life force is vigorous.

Snowdrops are contradictory: strong, yet they seem so delicate. Their leaves have thick and toughened acid tips that penetrate ice and snow and push up leaf masses, like small weight lifters so that in France the snowdrop is aptly called ‘pierce-neige’ – snow-piercer

The snowdrop has obscure origins: they could be native but we are not certain. They are certainly naturalized and we know they grew in Elizabethan gardens. The name ‘snowdrop’ was recorded for the first time at the end of the seventeenth century and the word’s origin is probably Swedish, ’snödroppe’ or the German Schneetropfen. The oldest reference to the snowdrop is in a glossary, dated 1465 - they are called ‘Leucis i viola alba’ and were considered a form of narcissus. Sir Thomas Hanmer writes in 1659 of ‘Bulbous violets’. Gerard’s Herbal refers to them as Leucoium Bulbosum praecox, which translates to ‘Timely Flowring Bulbus violet’.

The flower has many local aliases - Fair Maids, Dewdrops, Dropping Bell. In some communities snowdrops are called Death’s Flower and a source of bad luck, but paradoxically they are also a symbol of purity and virginity when called by a different name - Candlemas Bells and are then gathered in bunches to celebrate Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification on 2 February.

In the winter and often well into spring Little Sparta is snow bound and Ian Hamilton Finlay would despair that each year spring would not come and the trees would not leaf out. As late as April one year he could write ‘The buds on the bare trees look frightful, like a display of bolts in the icy air’, but in February he did have the snowdrops to cheer him up.

"The first snowdrops at Stonypath came from my parents' garden at Newholm (like so much else). Every year I would divide them and spread them further. In Dunsyre there are the ruins of two little cottages beside the church - much over-grown and shaded by an enormous Sycamore or two - in those lost gardens there were hundreds of snowdrops in clumps - some of them the larger variety and some the double - as well as the plain ones. I dug clumps and re-planted them on the roadside verges as well as in the gardens of Shawfield and The Old Smithy and in the Wild Wood. Always leaving some behind of course." [Sue Swan, February 6 2016]

Newsletter January 2016

The Little Sparta Trust - A Guid New Year
At The Little Sparta Trust we are powering through the winter even though, on the surface, it may look like little is happening. The trustees are busy with funding applications and prioritisation of conservation work. With advice from Finlay's executor, artists and craftspeople are commissioned to repair or recreate the iconic works in the garden. On the ground, literally, our Head Gardener supervises the day to day activity. Read on for more details of what has been happening during the closed season so far.

Many thanks to all who purchased a copy of the new Little Sparta book - we are sure your loved ones will have been delighted with their gift. Remember too that if you buy directly from us, the Trust receives 100% of the cover price.

This is the fourth edition of our e-Newsletter, and we are thrilled that some of you shared it with friends who then subscribed themselves. We'll be happy to hear any feedback or receive contributions. You can get in touch by email or interact with us on facebook or twitter. Remember, you can use the 'unsubscribe' function at the bottom of the page if you don't want to hear from us again.

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News & Events

Magnus Linklater, Chairman of the Little Sparta Trust, will be appearing at the Pitlochry Winter Words Festival in mid February to speak about the creation and care of the garden. Follow this link for details of the event.

We are thrilled to announce that Robert Wilson has joined the board of trustees. He is, of course, co-owner of Jupiter Artland and was a collector of Finlay's work during the latter's lifetime. He will bring to the Trust a wealth of contemporary art expertise and his experience of running a public sculpture venue.

In funding news, the Trust would like to record its gratitude to the Monument Trust which has delivered the second half of its substantial and generous grant to allow for the restoration and refurbishment of works of art in the garden including the following:
Curved bench recarved by Caroline Webb                  
Sculpture conservation by Graciela Ainsworth           
Refurbished chimney by M. Moore                                  
Step repairs by Andrew Townsend                                  
Temple restoration by Nicholas Sloan                           
Monument works by Colin Nelson                                 
Watercourse conservation works by Water Gems                             
Remedial works by LS gardeners                                  
New covers for protection                                                 
New greenhouses                                                                             
Inscribed fishing float by Alison Kennedy

We have also applied for funding to Creative Scotland under their Open Project Funding scheme, and the Monument Trust has pledged partnership funding if this is forthcoming.
Head Gardener George Gilliland compiles a monthly garden diary supplemented with snapshots he takes while he works. These are published on our website, but we hope more of our supporters will enjoy receiving them by email.

Here is the Garden Diary for December and the New Year...
Garden Diary Midwinter 2015/16

The turn of the year sees also the turn of the seasons from a generally mild month of December to the snow and freezing conditions which mark the New Year. Overall though the most significant effect of the weather has been the amount of continual rainfall. While we have not been flooded as in other areas, the ground is heavily saturated - the water levels are high in the ponds and loch, and there has been some almost inevitable damage from the sheer volume of water.

Sections of the track up the garden have been washed away again - there seems to be no way of avoiding this, in spite of the work completed in resurfacing the track earlier in the year. It will just have to wait now until spring to be properly repaired - any makeshift repairs made have just been washed away again.

In Julie’s Garden the old cypress hedging has now been cut down. It is a bit of a shock to see this area bared - but it is ready for replanting now with yew (once the ground is defrosted). The one benefit of the old hedging - in concealing the oil tanks on the perimeter - will now be taken over by camouflage netting - somehow appropriate to a wartime garden.

The rowan trees here have been top crowned so that they remain more in proportion and are a better shape. The fan espaliered cherry against the gable end wall of the Temple of Apollo will also need replaced as it is well past its best.

Trees have also been taken down in the Roman Garden in readiness for replanting with yew in this area and some of the snow berry bushes removed.

Some of the new replacement artworks have been completed - the oak plank bridge That Which Joins and That Which Divides is One and The Same - by Charles Gurrey, has arrived and been installed in place. It has then been covered over again for the rest of the winter to be revealed bright and new in the springtime. Also the glass fishing float A E I O blue (the colour of the vowels) has been remade by Alison Kinnaird. The new flag pole has arrived and will be put in place awaiting the eventual unfurling of a new flag.

We have also had one piece of significant storm damage in the woodland - a section of dead tree fell on one of the Hand Grenade finials - it somehow caught the corner of the base (with obviously quite a mighty thud) and this section has been chipped off. The damaged piece can be repaired and put back together again - but of all the ways the branch could have fallen its almost as if it sought out its victim. The remainder of the tree has now been cut down.

A selection of native broadleaf trees have been ordered for planting - to fill gaps in the front garden and for along the perimeter edge of the entrance area where they will eventually form another effective windbreak to the garden.