Isabella ‘Ella’ Christie of Cowden (1861 –1949) was a formidable character whose achievements included being the first western lady to travel from Samarkand to Khiva and to meet the Dalai Lama. Between 1904–05 she travelled to India and then on to Kashmir, Tibet, Malaya, and Borneo.

Although at times travelling in hostile conditions, her trunks contained dresses for parties (including a banquet given by the Maharaja of Kashmir and dinner with Lord Kitchener then Commander in Chief, India). She camped in the snow at Chorbat Pass, sailed in a cargo ship full of pigs, travelled by pack horse and cart in the Kashmir wilderness, and trekked by foot for 60 miles in the Desoi Mountains.

Aged 50, while waiting for the train at Dollar station, Ella was asked if she were travelling to Edinburgh; her short reply, ‘No, Samarkand’, perfectly encapsulates the fearless spinster who was fluent in four languages including Finnish.

On returning from Uzbekistan, where she travelled by train, steamer and droshky, she was in the first cohort of women to be elected Fellows of The Royal Geographical Society. During a trip to China, Korea (for her maid to be treated for a head injury in an American hospital), and Japan between 1907 and 1908, Ella became inspired to create a Japanese garden at Cowden and to employ Taki Handa to fulfil her dream.

1861
Ella Christie born in Midlothian.

1865
John and Alison Christie moved to Cowden Castle. They settled in Clackmannanshire as the soil and climate is perfect for growing trees. John Christie was a keen arborist.

1904
Ella left for India, Tibet and Malay after the death of her father.

1906–7
Ella embarked on a tour of China, Hong Kong, Russia and Japan. At Yaami’s Hotel in Kyoto, she met sisters, Ella and Florence du Cane authors of The Flowers and Gardens of Japan and became inspired to create her own Japanese garden.

1908
On her return to Cowden, Ella had the burn dammed in a seven acre hollow, creating a loch.Taki Handa, originally from the Royal School of Garden Design at Nagoya but  then studying at Studley College in England, was employed for two months helping to create Shãh-Rak-Uen, ‘the place of pleasure and delight’.

1908–1925
As the garden matured, Professor Suzuki, 18th Hereditary Head of the Soami School of Imperial Garden Design, came regularly to prune the many imported shrubs and trees.
He declared the garden ‘The best garden in the Western World’. This is widely thought to be due to the garden being designed and maintained by Japanese gardeners.

1926
Ella’s great nephew, Robert Christie Stewart, born at Arndean, two miles south of Cowden.

1925
Shinzaburo Matsuo, who had lost his family in an earth quake, came to Scotland and worked in the garden until he died in 1937; he is buried in Muckhart churchyard. In his multi colour-ed Kimono, wide-pleated trousers, golf stockings, white spats and velour hat, he was often mistaken for the Japanese Emperor. That Miss Christie went to such pains to obtain the right skill and knowledge from Japan, and was able to obtain such faithful service from those strangers in a foreign land were the reasons for the subsequent success of the enterprise.

1908–1949
Many people visited the garden, among them Andrew Lang, writer and historian; novelist Annie S. Swan; George Blake; and HM Queen Mary. The garden was opened regularly for Scotland’s Garden Scheme (Alice Stewart, Ella’s sister, was a founder of the scheme).

1949
Miss Christie of Cowden died of leukaemia aged 87.
The Garden was put in trust for her great nephew,
Robert Christie Stewart, and maintained by estate workers.

1952
Cowden Castle demolished.

1955
The Japanese Garden was opened to the public for the last time on May 28th in aid of the Episcopal Church St James’s in Dollar.Robert Stewart continued to give private tours and ectures to garden history groups.

1950s/60s
Intensive tree planting at east end of garden
(birches, oaks, and sequoias).

1963
Teenagers broke into the garden and burnt the teahouses, bridges and knocked the lanterns and shrines into the water during a night of mayhem. They were witnessed fleeing.

2008
The garden was handed over to Miss Christie’s
great, great niece (Robert’s daughter), Sara Stewart.

2010
Taki Handa’s granddaughter visited the garden.

2011
Two new bridges commissioned by Robert Stewart.

2012
The pond was dredged in order to clear the weeds and find
the missing pieces from the lanterns. Inclusion in the Historic Environment Scotland Inventory of Designed Landscapes.

2013
Professor Masao Fukuhara, from Osaka University of Arts, Japan, was appointed to restore the garden.

2014
Start of restoration.
Formation of the charity The Japanese Garden at Cowden Castle, Charity No: SC045060.

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