Amid all the controversy over memorials to Princess Diana at Kensington Gardens and elsewhere, one of the most apt and beautiful has been ignored.

The memorial, a large circular slate inscription, is by Ian Hamilton Finlay, one of Scotland's pre-eminent international artists, and forms part of a larger permanent commission relating to a #4m revamp of London's Serpentine Gallery. Princess Di was its patron (one of her most famous photos shows her arriving at the Serpentine gala dinner in ravishing short black dress on the night of Charles's BBC film revelations). As the Serpentine's most illustrious neighbour, Diana gave much support to the gallery and to its director, her friend Julia Peyton Jones.

''It was quite extraordinary,'' explains Finlay. ''The whole project, which mixes sadness and tranquillity and is elegiac in every aspect, was designed before she died. All I did was insert her name into the centre of the text. The memorial couldn't have been more apt; the dedication more apposite. The circle sits just outside the gallery entrance and contains the Latin and English names of trees from the park: oak, lime, elm, copper beech, poplar, alder, ash, yew, hornbeam, chestnut, hawthorn. Inside six tight outer rings I put a beautiful quotation from the eighteenth-century philosopher Francis Hutcheson: 'The beauty of trees, their cool shades, and their aptness to conceal from observation, have made groves and woods the usual retreat to those who love solitude, especially to the religious, the pensive, the melancholy, and the amorous.' The centre was blank. It was as though that space

had been left to take Diana's name.''

So while battles rage over margarine tub logos, bombastic 300ft-high fountains, and lavish formal gardens, this low-key, integral artwork is both elegant and graceful. That it has been overlooked is no surprise to Finlay.

Finlay, now 73, has long been acclaimed throughout Europe, but the UK, and notably Scotland, has failed to recognise his special talents.

''I've really given up on Scotland. Not that I wanted to, but I've accepted that the situation will not change. It would be nice to be known in my own country - but I've put that aside. I just get on with the work. However, but for foreign commissions I'd never have made it.''

While the Serpentine is his first London commission, major outdoor pieces round the world include Stuttgart, California, Holland, and recently the New Kunsthalle in Hamburg with which he's well pleased.

His last big show closed a fortnight ago in Mainz. With 16 big projects currently in hand (Karlsruhe Law Courts; all four facades of Cologne Museum; a park in Zurich; Montreal's biennial; Barcelona's Miro Foundation plus public art on the nearby hillside; two projects in former East Germany; and a water sculpture in the Hague), he can truly state: ''I have no lack of things to do!''

Text is today's fashionable medium among young conceptual artists. They use it indiscriminately: scribbled on walls; scratched with a stick; etched in glass; sewn in sequins; knitted in hair; dripped in tar; or scrolled in hi-tech LED lights. But while attention is paid to the materials - the weirder the better, it seems - little is given to content.

Here Finlay wins. He began using text in the 1950s, making his name as Britain's foremost concrete poet. His belief that art should be taken seriously is reflected in every full stop and syllable of his carefully chosen words - and in their immaculate, uncompromising calibre of presentation.

Finlay's Serpentine project also incorporates eight large stone benches plus one of his characteristic tree-plaques. All feature pastoral poetry by Virgil. The benches use seven different translations of Virgil's famous phrase about chimney smoke and dusk's mountain shadows. ''I believe those two lines are crucial to Western civilisation. Virgil invented the evening! It's the first time in literature that the sentiment - the elegiac aspect of evening - is present.''

The translations, by Pope, Samuel Palmer, C Day Lewis, and others, cover the centuries.

Finlay has always believed in fragments of poems (he once described the sonnet as a ''sewing machine for the monostitch''), and is especially keen on one-line poems ''in a garden if the surroundings are conceived as part of the poem''. He believes the idiom of public art is not properly understood, and should be approached through the tradition of the garden where ''we have a long and excellent tradition of placing sculptural things in the landscape''. The Serpentine, with its neo-Georgian building and formal landscaping, provided an ideal setting for doing ''something classical in content - and feeling it would fit''.

Finlay also exhibits at Victoria Miro Gallery in London's famous Cork Street. Here a series of smaller engraved benches in wood, slate, and stone vary the idiom with quotes from Ezra Pound, Genesis, and Finlay himself. The nobility of a craft perfectly performed is evident in the beautiful letter-cutting of Finlay's collaborators Peter Coates, John Andrew, and Andrew Whittle.

Scotland's habit of overlooking its homegrown talent is bad enough for the young but inexcusable for senior artists like Finlay, Barns Graham, Davie, and others. In Finlay's case an artwork for Scotland's new Parliament building does seem an obvious challenge. But has anyone invited him? The nearest Finlay got to UK acclaim was his 1985 nomination for the Tate Turner Prize.

Happily Glasgow School of Art's Vivien Maxwell has her hour of glory, winning the Master's Medal at the Royal Society's RSA Student Design Awards for her customer-friendly supermarket interior. Established in 1924, the RSA awards attract around 3000 entries in 48 design categories from 120 colleges with 175 judges completing 270 hours of sifting to award #200,000 worth of prizes. Meanwhile Timorous Beasties, Glasgow's most famous textile graduates, have just won New York's top prize at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

Back at the Mackintosh building, Glasgow School of Art's 17 bright-spark MFA students present an impressive show but tend to prove the point about lack of content. Cunningham, Doyle, and Watt handwrite their less-than-profound messages, while Hislop takes found graffiti from a tree in Croatia. Better by far are the clutch of cosmopolitans, notably Yamahita's clever shadow lovers, Mruck's video family album, Turek's cibachromes, or Kraneis's graphic crossroads. Bjerge Hansen inadvertently gives a nod to Finlay's miniature tugs and boats but without any of his complex metaphor. She should visit his miraculous Stonypath garden at Dunsyre and see the real thing.

n Ian Finlay's art can be purchased for a mere #1.50 from Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery, as one of a set of four commemorative World Cup postcards launched yesterday.