Mixed Architectural Materials

Little Sparta entrance

A few years ago, my sweetheart and I called in at Little Sparta, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s house and garden, where many artworks are displayed. It was just a quick visit, but Little Sparta lingers with you, drawing your mind back to play with the ideas there.

One of the things it taught me, looking back, is to loosen up my ideas when it comes to what things go together.

Little Sparta Gate

My first thoughts on seeing this little entrance were of horror. I loved the moss covered dry stone wall and the little guardian trees, each fronted by a mossy stone. I loved the wooden gate with the curved green fixings (or whatever you’d call them). The trouble was that I did not love the brick columns or the material used for the steps: fine in another context, they jarred here. And the decorative stone capitals and lintel (with ‘A COTTAGE A FIELD A PLOUGH’ carved on it) jarred against the brick.

What was this? It didn’t seem right. Each function had a different form. Was it modern or traditional? Grand or domestic? Formal or informal? Was it poetic?

I had no epiphany while I was there, but I did notice other parts of the house and garden where materials were similarly mixed. Looking back, I’ve realised that experiencing this pushed out my boundaries.

The entrance does still jolt my expectations, but it reminds me not to judge – not to think my taste matters outside any arena I control. Over time, I’ve mysteriously been freed to enjoy its quirkiness; its add-a-bit-here, add-a-bit-there style; its determination to be whatever it wants.

Little Sparta is in Dunsyre in the Pentland Hills not far from Edinburgh, Scotland and is well worth visiting if you have the chance. It has reopened, but you’ll need to book in advance.

28 Replies to “Mixed Architectural Materials”

  1. I know what you mean, these things do jar but keeping an open mind is useful so that we don’t judge everything in too narrow a fashion. At the same time it’s worth recognising that our first instinct may be right and that a narrow view of something is not always a bad idea.

    1. Good point. I hadn’t expected to think this way. It was only when I was thinking of sharing these that I realised my opinion had changed.

  2. Definitely a mix. It works pretty well. I’m studying Welsh, and wall is one of the first words introduced along with leeks, sausage, beer, house husband and dragon.

  3. It’s interesting how we’ve learned to put things in boxes. It’s quite refreshing when those are challenged. It’s quirky 🙂

    1. I wonder about those trees. They don’t look particularly old. I read that taller trees shade the younger ones out for a while and they get stronger that way and are more likely to live longer when their turn comes, but part of me wonders if these have been replaced to keep them small. Tree as poetry rather than tree.

    1. I think you’d love to wander around the landscape. It was heather season when we were there and we were late in the day so it was very quiet.

  4. I’m okay with the stone walls, brick pillars and wooden gate, but the fact that those overdone steps just end in the lawn, rather than in a paved walk–that bugs me.

    1. I’m not sure now whether this was the real entrance or a symbolic one. There doesn’t seem to be enough headroom for a tall person.

  5. Indeed, we all have our notions of how things should fit together. It’s good to think about how others see how things should — or don’t — fit together. Were I at Little Sparta, I think I’d look at this for a while and then go recuperate under a nice predictable tree.

  6. I think our instincts are often right. These materials do not go together at all. Remove the brick and the steps and all would be fine!

    1. I love the stone wall with its moss and ivy but can’t help wondering what it would look like with a few of your hedge flowers in it.

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