The Japanese Garden · Cowden Castle · Scotland    A Restoration Appeal

Brochure (pdf)



Ella Christie born in Midlothian.


John and Alison Christie (Ella’s parents) bought Cowden Castle near Dollar, Clackmannanshire. They settled there as the estate had the perfect soil for an arborist.


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


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.


On her return to Cowden, Ella had the burn dammed in a seven acre hollow, creating a loch. Taki Handa, originally instructor at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, Japan, but at that time studying at Studley College in England, was employed by Miss Christie for two months to help create Shãh-Rak-Uen, ‘the place of pleasure and delight’.


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


Ella was the first Western woman to meet the Dalai Lama on a trip to Nepal.


Robert Christie Stewart born at Arndean, Dollar, two miles south of Cowden.

1925 – 1937

Mr Shinzaburo Matsuo, who had lost his entire family in an earthquake, came to Scotland and worked in the garden until he died in 1937. He is buried in Muckhart Churchyard. Dressed in multi-coloured Kimino, 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 the fact that she was able to obtain such faithful service from those strangers in a foreign land were the reasons for the subsequent success of the enterprise.


Many people visited the garden, among them writer and historian, Andrew Lang, 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 one of the founders of the scheme).


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


Cowden Castle demolished.


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 lectures to garden history groups.


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


Teenagers broke into the garden and burnt the teahouses, bridges and knocked the lanterns and shrines into the water during one night of mayhem. They were witnessed fleeing the scene by Mr Stirling at Castleton Farm.


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


Taki Handa’s granddaughter visited the garden.


Two new bridges commissioned by Robert Stewart.


The pond was dredged in order to clear the weeds and find the missing pieces from the lanterns. The garden was included in the Inventory by Historic Scotland.


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

May 2014

Start of Restoration. See photos.

August 2014

Formation of charitable trust.



Ella Christie, 1909

Cowden Castle

Taki Handa at Cowden

Japanese Garden, 1908

Japanese Garden, 1909

Japanese Garden, 1909

Shinzaburo Matsuo, Caretaker 1925–1937

Ella Christie, Japanese Garden, Cowden, 1934

Japanese Garden, Autumn, 1938

The last public opening, 28th May, 1955

Professor Fukuhara and Junya Matukawa at Cowden

Recollections of the Japanese Garden

Sir Robert Stewart, KCVO, CBE, DL

Robert Stewart

Robert and Grizel Stewart, Cowden, 1930

Queen Mary at Cowden, 1937, with Robert Stewart in foreground and Ella Christie on right

"The Japanese Garden was created, in 1908, by my great aunt (‘Grandaunt’), Ella Christie. I remember spending most Sundays in the 30s with her and my sister, Grizel. We would walk from the castle up the long, burnside path, through the lime avenue to the garden and have tea in the Tea House in the first floor of the Boat House. The interior was furnished with symbolic wood carvings. From the balcony one looked out onto the ‘slopes of Fuji’ and the Ochil Hills in the distance.

"Queen Mary, a friend of Grandaunt’s, visited in 1937 and I remember showing her the collection of china, oriental objets d’art and photographs of Ella’s travels, by the 13th Century Tower. We visited the long gallery, where I held the light cable for her to see properly. I remember Ella giving The Queen a piece of china. We drove to the garden on the recently constructed ‘Coronation’ tarmac road; the garden was immaculate.

"When my sister and I visited as teenagers, before and during the war, Grand-aunt would explain all the meanings of the stones, the shrines and the lacquered lanterns. She explained how no one must meddle with the spring, which was the source for the water supply to the loch. She would sit in her revolving summerhouse, admire her creation and reminisce on her visits to Japan and the special trees in the garden. It was never bor­ing and made a lasting impression on me. For her, who had travelled the world so often, this was her reward."