Little Sparta Trust
The Garden
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Newsletter February 2017

A message from Magnus Linklater
Chairman of The Little Sparta Trust

Magnus LinklaterLittle Sparta is hugely important to the cultural scene in Scotland. It now needs to reach out to a wider audience. I am writing to ask whether you would be prepared to help the Little Sparta Trust achieve an important new stage in its development, which will significantly improve access for the wider public in Scotland and beyond.

The garden, which has been declared a major artwork itself, and has been described by Sir Roy Strong as the most important created in Britain since the second world war, has been the focus for a year-long artists’ residency, funded by Creative Scotland, which has revealed the inspirational qualities of the garden, and its major significance in influencing Scottish culture today.

It seems clear to us that we must now expand this theme of sharing to the wider public, to engage with an audience that stretches beyond the cultural centre, and broadens access to the garden, so that others too can learn and benefit from its inspirational qualities.

We now have three main objectives:

- To invest in the infrastructure of Little Sparta – disabled access, parking facilities, and the small and somewhat dilapidated, glass-fronted entrance area, where visitors are received.

- To raise the profile of the garden by improving our advertising and membership strategy; by restructuring our web-site; and by establishing a year-long series of art events in conjunction with Edinburgh University/College of Art and the National Galleries of Scotland, our partners.

- To recruit and employ a trainee gardener to work alongside our head gardener, and carry forward the work of managing and maintaining the garden in the tradition of Ian Hamilton Finlay

If you, or an organisation you work for, is able to contribute financially to these objectives then please email the Trust administrator [editor's note: that's me, Laura Robertson] who will arrange a meeting with me.

It is also possible to make small donations via our website.

ML, Edinburgh, March 2017

Garden Diary - February 2017
George Gilliland

The main job this month has been the jet wash cleaning of the brick and stone paths and patio areas, which is made more difficult by our familiar water source problems - silting, freezing and airlocks. Once it is running again it is just a question of working through all these areas in the Front and Temple gardens and into the woodlands.

There is a decision process of what areas or level of moss to leave and what to clear away - not a random choice but decided by the positioning of works and practicality for ease of passage.

The greenhouses too have been cleaned out and left prepared for coming season - all is spic and span.

Continuing renovations in the front garden mean preparation and planting of new apple trees by the Appledore - James Grieve, Howgate Wonder, and Bloody Ploughman. And in the Roman garden all the old cypress has been removed and replaced with yews which will grow into a fine formal hedge enclosure.

By the front entrance also in the car parking area, a few plantings of greengage, weeping birch and others will in time edge this area in pleasant dappled shade and add to the western wind break.

The grass in the English Parkland has been cleared as much as possible of late fallen leaves, twigs and branches. Another bonfire awaits.

For the most part now we have enjoyed mild clear days - then a spate of storms. We have not seen the last of the snow and frost, but in the bright sunshine snowdrops dominate, filling the ground like torn pieces of fallen cloud.

Here are the first signs of spring - flights of returning oystercatchers swoop overhead, and  in the ponds the repetitive throaty burblings of the frogs mating chorus.

Repairs of artworks are ongoing and many of the restored pieces have now been completed awaiting collection and reinstallation.

Trust News

New additions to the web archive

We are delighted to be able to share early B&W photos of Stonypath taken by Richard Demarco. These help document the early development of the garden, and we are extremely grateful to Richard for making them available to us.

We have also added photographs taken by trustee Patrick Eyres to the transcript of a talk given at St George's, Bristol, by Harry Gilonis as part of the Arnolfini Gallery's 'Ian Hamilton Finlay Weekend' in August 2013.


We can also share Patrick's article first published in the Garden History Society’s GHS News in 2009 describing the context, conception and posthumous completion of the Hortus Conclusus - Ian Hamilton Finlay’s final element for the Little Sparta garden.

Open times & prices for 2017 season

In 2017 Little Sparta will be open to the public for longer and on more days than ever before.

7 June - 30 September
Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays (NOT JUNE) and Sundays 12.30 - 17.00

Admission £12.50
Students, with student card or Young Scot card £7.50

Check our website for fuller information, directions and a very useful warning about using SatNav to find Little Sparta.

Newsletter January 2017

In this packed edition you can find links to the 2017 Sharing Little Sparta residency application details and a call for papers for an IHF conference. There's our Head Gardener's diary of busy midwinter challenges, and a short essay on how the edible weed purslane came to Little Sparta.

Trust News - Sharing Little Sparta


Residencies 2017

We are pleased to announce details of the 2017 Sharing Little Sparta summer residency programme. Building upon the success of the first series of residencies in 2016, the Little Sparta Trust will award a maximum of three residencies this year for visual artists, poets and writers based in Scotland.

New in 2017 will be the opportunity for those specialising in horticulture, botany, landscape and garden design to apply and take part in this programme. Although residential accommodation is not available on site at Little Sparta, these funded, research-focussed residencies provide supported access to the garden, to Ian Hamilton Finlay's extensive library within his house at Stonypath and to the collections of his work held by our project partners at the National Galleries of Scotland and the Scottish Poetry Library. 

For further information on the residencies, the fee paid to the participating artists and how to apply, please follow the links on our website. Information on Sharing Little Sparta's first year of residencies (awarded to poets Thomas A. Clark and Peter Manson and visual artist Sarah Rose) is also available there.

Sharing Little Sparta is a two-year pilot project supported by Creative Scotland and developed by the Little Sparta Trust in partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland, the Scottish Poetry Library and the University of Edinburgh.

Head Gardener's Diary - Midwinter 2016/17

George Gilliland

The first snows have come and gone, but for a few days at least the garden was stranded in the depths of winter. Inevitably this brings consequences once all the whiteness has disappeared. There was a collapsed section of stone dyke at the entrance, and the wooden gate at the car park entrance has split: a temporary repair with metal strapping is holding the top bar together, but it will probably need a sturdier repair or replacement later.

The wooden entrance gate - A Cottage A Field A Plough - has been cleaned of its old varnish and most of the ingrained stains have gone: a substantial amount of work has revived the wood and will allow it now to age more naturally while preserving it. The wooden stile at the top of the garden - An escalation of the footpath - which had rotted through is being remade and should be in place for the start of the new season. The smaller stile at the back of the Temple of Apollo, which marks the public right of way, is also being repaired.

In this area too, a site is being prepared for a new shed to house mobility scooters which will improve access to the garden. A few more trees have been planted around here and wood chip from the clearances in the front garden has been spread as mulch and weed suppressant.

All of the sailing ship pavers have been brought indoors and repainted. As a stone fleet at harbour in the library they take on a very different presence and appearance.

A new silver birch has been planted in front of the St Just column base in the front garden. When the weather improves the remainder of replacement trees for Bring back the birch, the sunken garden and the Appledore bench areas will be planted. More yews will also be planted by the Roman Garden, continuing the renovation of this part of the garden.

The logs left from the tree felling have been stacked away in the wood shed and a bit more pruning of trees and collecting of fallen branches is keeping the woodland in order.

The water source on the hill has been both freezing and clogging up with silt, but is now running again. Drainage pipes at the bottom of the English Parkland and at the back of Lochan Eck have been rodded out and cleared of the heavy ochre silt which blocks them and leads to the ground here being saturated.

The ground generally is heavy - when it is not frosted all is muddy and sodden - the clouds sit flat and low. Even though the first bulbs are now peeking through, the only blooms at the moment are the yellow flowers of winter aconites which shine bright against the dark earth like little lemon bonbons. Spring still seems a long way off.

IHF events

Last chance to see L'etoile dans son etable de lumiere at St Paul's Cathedral until Candlemas, 2nd February 2017.
See the Cathedral website here.

The exhibition Ian Hamilton Finlay: Neoclassicism and Revolution at Pallant House Gallery further continues until 19th February 2017.

Call for papers for 
Ian Hamilton Finlay: Little Fields, Long Horizons, a symposium which will take place next year at the University of Edinburgh on July 13 and 14, with an associated event at Little Sparta on July 15.

On Purslane and Dawn Macleod

Another in our series of essays about the development of Little Sparta
by Ann Uppington


Purslane is a small ground cover plant, a weed in fact, thriving in pavement cracks and in dry unfertile sandy soil. Visualize it as a miniature jade plant - a small succulent creeping along the ground. You will have stepped on it for sure and not noticed. It was much-used in the medieval period, a wild foraged food, now known to be packed with antioxidants and vitamins. Dubbed an ‘edible super green’, innovative chefs incorporate it into salads, soup and stews.

What has this insignificant ‘weed’ to do with the garden of Little Sparta? A pot of this tiny plant was planted there one summer over twenty years ago. Ian Hamilton Finlay was interested in ground cover: when a new artwork was placed, the bare ground around it had to be filled, mostly with the ubiquitous geranium or spare ferns culled from other parts of the garden. Graham Stewart Thomas’s famous book, Plants for Ground Cover was always at hand. This new ground cover was a gift from a friend, who had just visited - the writer, Dawn Macleod, and this was the tenuous link between us, as I another visitor, arriving the next day was given the purslane to plant. In a chance conversation with artist Janet Boulton this autumn I found out more about Dawn.

Janet tells that Dawn and Ian were firm friends and shared a liking for poetry and the work of the artist, Paul Nash. When Dawn died March 29 1995 Ian wrote to Janet “ the world is a poorer place” with Dawn’s death.

The Little Sparta trust is interested in adding material to the new Archival section on our website and we would be grateful for any information about Dawn Macleod. What we already know is that Dawn was a horticulturalist, historian and herbalist and has a unique place in the sharing of Little Sparta with the wider gardening world through her several articles on the garden for Hortus commissioned by its editor, David Wheeler. Dawn’s articles were mostly written in the 1980s and early 90s. Dawn lived in a fisherman’s cottage on the edge of Kirkcudbright and went to great lengths to visit Little Sparta and meet with Ian, taking a taxi to travel the eighty miles there.

Dawn wrote nine books, none are currently in print, but easily found through Amazon’s second hand book dealers. Oasis of The North is her most well known book, about her time in the 1950s, gardening with her adopted aunt, Mairi Sawyer at Inverewe - the garden she inherited from her father, Osgood Mackenzie. Inverewe is internationally known for its unique collections of conifers and rhododendrons. Published in 1958, Oasis of The North, with its fine etchings by the artist William McLaren, is about the slower, simpler life that Dawn, a former civil servant from England, found living amongst Gaelic-speaking country people, still earning their livelihood from farming and fishing as much as it ever about Inverewe. It is a quiet book about a distant time and well worth reading.

Dawn Macleod’s other books: Down to Earth Women; Those who care for the Soil published1982, A Book of Herbs published 1968, Land of Tweed published 1983, Gardener’s London published 1972,The gardener’s Scotland published 1977, Herb Handbook, Poplar Herbs, Designing your own garden. We do not as yet have dates for these books.