Sunday, June 11, 2006

Little Sparta

'Some gardens are retreats, but they can also be attacks' ~ Ian Hamilton Finlay

Actually, I'm paraphrasing. I could give you the exact statement but I shipped my work books on Wednesday. I feel strangely unbalanced without them, it's like I'm missing some vital part of myself. I'm consumed with anxiety. What if the boxes burst? What if they get dumped in the sea? Hey, freight guy! That's eight years of my life you have there. Be gentle with it.

Back to IHF. I visited his garden this week. I had a conference in Glasgow and realised that I could combine the two. The garden is only open to the public three months a year, Friday and Sunday afternooons from 2.30 to 5. I've been wanting to get there for years but never got round to it and, as with other parts of my life, I realised that if was ever going to do it, now was the moment.

And it was everything I hoped it would be. Little Sparts, the garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay, has been described as the most important garden of the 20th century. It's a masterpiece of poetry, sculpture, and landscape, combining gardening, philosophy and history to provoke and tantalise your imagination as you walk its coiling paths. IHF was (he died earlier this year) a poet and artist deeply interested in how we have engaged with the environment over the last two millenia. Little Sparta explores themes of territorial expansion and personal liberty, control and freedom through it sculpture and decoration; it alludes to Ovid, Virgil, the Roman Empire, Scottish land clearances, the French Revolution, the Industrial revolution, and WWII. I realise this makes it sound rather earnest and didactic but it's not; it's actually a very playful garden, eveything is on a small and personal scale, and it's great fun to visit. And, since the garden represents a work in progress, not everything is a success, which makes me like it all the more. Every artist produces some duds, and some of the conceits in Little Sparta work better than others. I like that unfinished, patchy quality. You find yourself having mental conversations with IHF as to why you think some things work and some don't.

Anyway, I strongly recommend that if you get the chance, you should visit Little Sparta. You need a car, but the caretaker told me that they were about to start a regular minibus from Edinburgh

I love the fact that walking through a garden on a beautiful summer's day counts as research for me. And it's tax deductable!