Ian Hamilton Finlay and Little Sparta

We went to Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden which he made way up in the hills of the Scottish Borders last weekend, on a dreich day, and having got over the steep admission charge (£10 + £5 extra if you want to take any photos), had a lovely time paddling around the boggy grounds.

It is a forest of little corners and paths and gardens within gardens, and little bridges over burns which tinkle (a lot in our weather).  Also  IHF was a conceptual artist who worked with words and incongruities.   In this incredibly beautiful setting surrounded by soft mosses and gentleness is a pair of  gateposts atop with the typical victorian vulgar pineapples replaced by sandstone army grenades.  There are boats tied up beside tiny ponds and models and images of sailing dinghies everywhere, so why on earth he chose as his refuge somewhere about as far in land as you can get in Scotland beats me. 

There were little writings everywhere and places to retreat:


The place at Little Sparta which puzzled me most was the collection of huge lumps of granite displaced as bits of archeological finds on top of the hill side in a grandiose spot over all the land and water below:

The writing on the slabs (not easy to see I know, but look at the weather..I was soaked) says  “THE  PRESENT  ORDER  IS  THE  DISORDER  OF  THE  FUTURE  SAINT-  JUST“, one word on each bloc. 

What does it mean?  I have looked up Saint Just, I hadn’t noticed the hyphen and was expecting to come up against some one hugely saintly.    Saint-Just,  not saintly at all, in fact was Robespierres right hand man on the Committee of Public Safety in conducting the ‘reign of terror’ which occurred following the French Revolution and he was horribly bloodthirsty, and lost his head at a guillotine after the reign ended, terrifyingly for him.  My knowledge of French history is dreadful and I should read up more.  The Committee of Public Safety sounded so innocuous..but led to mass beheadings………

Was IHF having a laugh at the assumption of beatification of this murderer.   I don’t know at all but I am intrigued.


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