Jupiter Artland: Land of the giants

A LITTLE bit of the moon landed on a private estate just outside Edinburgh last weekend, but precisely where you might find the fragments is open to question. While the opening of an extraordinary new private sculpture garden, named Jupiter Artland, might be expected to go with a bit of a bang, the artist Cornelia Parker added more than the requisite pop and fizz as well.

Parker's artwork, Nocturne (A Moon Landing), involved a chamber orchestra, a stunning fireworks display inspired by the Whistler painting Nocturne In Black And Gold: The Falling Rocket and a certified piece of lunar meteorite exploding on high. Working with a crack team of skilled technicians, Parker helped orchestrate a display different from the bombast and pomp of most pyrotechnics, a subtle and rhythmic shower of white and gold shooting stars.

While the event itself was unquestionably the most beautiful fireworks display I've ever seen (take that Edinburgh Festival), the lasting magic of her idea in a garden which also features a lot of major league and pretty muscular sculpture is its stealth and lightness of touch. A small National Trust-style plaque will commemorate the occasion. The rest is left to the imagination. Wherever you might go in this garden, tread carefully – you might just be treading on real moon dust.

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Jupiter Artland is a remarkable place. A labour of love: self-funded and planned not by an army of curators but by the couple, Nicky and Robert Wilson, who own Bonnington House, in whose grounds Jupiter Artland has been seeded and nurtured. Nicky Wilson studied at art school and many of the artists commissioned have been teachers, friends or inspiration.

When I spoke to Parker last week she explained how she had once described her own art practice as "homeopathic", the idea of changing the world not through big gestures but through tiny doses. The fit with Jupiter Artland is fortuitous: Robert Wilson's business is founded upon homeopathic remedies.

The decision to open a private estate to the public gaze may have been a tricky one, but Jupiter Artland seems organised and remarkably thorough. Bookings are made on the internet, and there's a strict no-go to private areas of the estate. The rest, however, is remarkably free and easy. A few simple rules (no picnics, guide dogs only) and you have the run of the park. It will probably take an hour and half to walk round. There is a cafe set up in a silver trailer, a decent book shop and – every parent will be delighted to hear – a good set of loos.

So much for the practicalities, does it work as art? The estate at Jupiter Artland is an interesting site, both hidden and exposed, set in a slightly awkward flat plain near Edinburgh Airport. The secret bonus is a series of wonderful views across the Forth, where the bridges glint in the light. The landscape includes flat and open parkland, a meadow, woodland and coppices. Wisely, signage is minimal and formal paths are few.

Many of the artists are big names, and figures you won't be surprised to find in the landscape, among them Charles Jencks, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Anish Kapoor and Andy Goldsworthy. Jencks is the most obvious presence, dominating the entrance to the estate, with a series of Life Mounds, his characteristic sculpted green hillsides that most people will know from his work at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.

For many visitors these will be a highlight, but for my money the real interest in the estate lies in more subtle and complex areas of the garden, with artworks that feel more intimately tailored to the landscape and more challenging to the mind. Prime among these is Andy Goldsworthy, an artist who seems to be growing excitingly unpredictable. Once a playful lyricism was his bag, but there's an increasing and fascinating toughness to his recent work, drawn from his long-standing interest in stone structures and traditional construction.

His Stone House set in a dark piece of woodland is a case in point. You enter what looks like a typical rural shelter to be confronted not by a cosy bothy interior but a shockingly scraped-back floor which exposes the bedrock beneath. There is a single source of light through an open aperture that captures the evening sun. This is the landscape captured, examined and scalped, a brutal piece for all its beauty.

At Stone Coppice, a stand of coppiced sycamore has been transformed by what looks like a meteor shower more forceful than Cornelia Parker's. Huge chunks of rock (weighing, I'm told, up to four tonnes) are wedged high against the young wood. The question is raised about what natural or supernatural force might have put it there. In winter it will be stark and eerie, in summer, dense and unexpected.

In the woodland area of Gala Hill, it's not just stones that move but people too. Antony Gormley's Firmament is a giant figure that echoes the distant structure of the Forth Bridge. It's too bombastic for my taste.

Not far away, sculptor Laura Ford's Weeping Girls haunt the landscape like wraiths. Every old house should have a ghost, and these pale figures dressed in shroud-like lace are Jupiter Artland's own.

The highlight of a visit is the chance to see a sequence of the late Ian Hamilton Finlay's works which must be amongst his last commissions. There is an elegant row of beehives, a sandstone bridge with way markers and, at the edge of the parkland, a stunning Temple Of Apollo. It is Finlay's passion and drive for the artist's garden that kept an ancient form of art alive when it was little known and deeply unfashionable. His indomitable spirit is best felt at his own garden Little Sparta, but here it is evident still.

Jupiter Artland is clearly a work in progress and it promises to become a place for pilgrimage. A trip there, to the outdoor works sited at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and to Little Sparta, and you pretty much have a potted history of different approaches to outdoor sculpture. I'm looking forward to seeing Stone Coppice in a decade when the stones are covered in moss and the trees have grown round the rock to form curious gnarled hybrids. I'm looking forward to the next generation of commissions of artists. And, of course, I'm hoping that one day soon I'll find a little bit of the moon, scattered like chalk among the long grass.

• Jupiter Artland is open to the public. Adult admission 5. Booking is essential, www.jupiterartland.org