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.
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.