Little Sparta


Dunsyre ML11 8NG

Why should we visit?

Set in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh, Little Sparta is the creation of the poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay. It is an intriguing mix of sculpture, landscape design and horticulture and Finlay used it to express his ideas about art and nature, naming it Little Sparta as a protest against the Scottish Arts Council, with which he had a lengthy dispute. The garden contains many classical elements and Finlay drew on the philosophy and poetry of Greece and Rome for much of his inspiration, working with local stonemasons to bring his ideas to life. The contrast between these carefully-crafted elements and the wild landscape beyond the walls continues to energise the garden and today Little Sparta is looked after by a Trust that keeps Finlay’s vision fresh and relevant.

Story of the garden

After living in many different places around Scotland, Finlay moved to the farm of Stonypath in 1966 and, in partnership with his wife Sue, began to create what would become an internationally acclaimed garden across seven acres of a wild and exposed moorland site. Together they moved stones, laid paths, dug out lochs and ponds and transformed a stretch of bare, windswept ground into something quite extraordinary. Finlay divided the garden into sections, with names such as ‘The Roman Garden’ and ‘The English Parkland.’ He created a wild garden and a woodland garden, recognising, long before the current environmental movement, the need to preserve the natural world.


Sculpture is central to the garden and much of it here is political. ‘Nautilus’, an American nuclear-powered submarine sails among pots of hostas and a line of monolithic brick blocks embellished with brass and named ‘Camouflaged Flowers’, highlights the sinister practice of naming warships after blooms. Stone blocks and tablets carefully positioned amongst trees or on islands in the loch, carry thought-provoking inscriptions alluding to artists or philosophies and in one place a stone tablet, leaning against a lichen-covered birch tree, proclaims ‘Bring Back The Birch’.

Don’t Miss

The Memorial To The First Battle of Little Sparta at the entrance gate commemorates a skirmish between Finlay and sheriffs officers, while the eleven huge, half-dressed blocks of stone that lie amongst heather and grasses on the edge of one of the lochans are inscribed with the words ‘THE PRESENT ORDER IS THE DISORDER OF THE FUTURE’, a quote attributed to Saint-Just, a French revolutionary and philosopher.

Anything Else to Look Out For?

Little Sparta is not just an outdoor gallery, it is also a beautiful garden, with abundant waterlilies, avenues of trees, lush plantings around its many ponds and bright flowers in front of the house. There are many practical elements, including greenhouses and a productive allotment.

Best Time To Visit?

The garden opens from early June until the end of September, so it is predominantly a summer garden that uses dense foliage to contrast with open areas and the wider landscape.

Any recommendations in the area?

Little Sparta sits on the western-most edge of the Pentland Hills, an upland area cross-crossed with walking trails and offering exceptional views from its peaks. The area is also littered with archaeological remains, including hill forts and souterrains.


From junction 6A on the M8 follow the A73 to Newbiggin and then take the A721 towards Dunsyre for three miles.


Opening times: Thursday - Sunday, 1pm - 4pm,

Tickets: £9/£8/£5

The car park is a 10 minute walk from the garden up a steep track, but access and a mobility scooter can be arranged by calling the garden in advance.

Tel: 07826 495677


In association with Discover Scottish Gardens


Malleny Garden

Visitors who enter Malleny Garden near Balerno find themselves taking a step back in time. The high walls enclose a three-acre garden that has been cultivated for almost half a millennium, with 400-year-old yew trees that are known as the ‘Four Evangalists’, Victorian greenhouses and a collection of heritage shrub roses.

The garden, which is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, is adjacent to Malleny House, a 17th century mansion, which is not open to the public.

The gardens are renowned for their many scented plants, and in the summer the flowerbeds are a mass of perennials, while there are walks in the surrounding woodland all year round.

Just outside the walls, the old doo-cot, with its saddle-backed roof, is a reminder that this garden, which now sits on the edge of suburbia, was once some distance from the Capital.

Malleny Garden

Blue Cottage

Balerno EH14 7AF