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CRITIC'S CHOICE

REVIEW

Just as Joze Plecnik engaged with Classicism in a profound but very individual way (AJ 28.07.05), so does Ian Hamilton Finlay. Beside a pool of water lilies at Little Sparta - Finlay's garden in the Pentland Hills, 20 miles south-west of Edinburgh - is his Garden Temple, dedicated to Apollo.

Plaques and memorials throughout the grounds evoke other mythological figures, or the way Classicism has been mediated by such painters as Poussin and Claude.

Finlay is 80 this year, and three exhibitions in Edinburgh mark the event. At the Scottish Poetry Library is Early Works from the Wild Hawthorn Press 1964-1971 - a selection of Finlay's prints, cards and booklets. L'Idylle des Cerises at the Ingleby Gallery has new graphic works and sculptures, with Finlay's collaborators - the people who do the carving - scrupulously credited as usual, while at 18thcentury Inverleith House is Sentences: aphorisms that Finlay formulated in the process of making his garden, painted on the walls in various fonts, sizes and colours. 'Classical gardens deal in grave generalisations, modern gardens in fussy particulars, ' says one: 'The garden gnome is of the Gothic and not the Hellenic tradition, ' says another.

But Little Sparta is permeated by more than Classical myth, with Finlay's references to the French Revolution, the history of English landscape gardening, warships and fishing boats and the passage of the seasons.

With a painted inscription on it, even a humble watering can becomes a protagonist in the garden's elaborate morality play.

Yet you could ignore all the conscious allusions that punctuate a visit and just enjoy the botanical diversity and the ingenious spatial planning, as Finlay makes every metre of the site count and keeps you turning corners or exploring culs-de-sac, wondering what comes next.

The Little Sparta Trust aims to protect the garden in the future. Already one can see issues of management arising as some of the earlier carved inscriptions begin to erode - should they just become slowly indistinct? Little Sparta will be open intermittently until the end of September. Visit (www. littlesparta. co. uk and www. rbge. org. uk).

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