Background & History

"At the turn of the 20th Century, the Scottish adventurer Ella Christie returned home from a trip to the Japan inspired to build her own Japanese Garden.

As might be expected from the first western woman to meet the Dalai Lama, Ella's approach to developing the garden was trailblazing. She chose a female designer – the gifted Taki Handa – to create the seven acre site in the grounds of Cowden Castle. In doing so, The Japanese Garden at Cowden became the first and only garden of its size and scale to be designed by a woman. It remains a unique and utterly authentic bridge between Scottish and Japanese culture.

Sadly vandalised in the 1960’s, the garden is being brought back to life by a team of experts including the renowned Japanese architect and garden designer Professor Masao Fukuhara. The Professor is best known for winning the Gold Medal at Chelsea Flower Show as well as the restoration of The Japanese Gardens at Kew, London and Tatton Park, Cheshire.

Michael Innes, admired for his landscape designs at Attadale Gardens and Dumfries House is now our horticultural consultant.

Robert Grindrod, our Estate Gardener continues to battle the elements to maintain the seven acre site prophetically named: The Place of Pleasure and Delight’ by Ella Christie. He is also responsible for developing the new Stewart Adventure Woodland.

Cowden was inherited by my father, Bobby Stewart and is now managed by a charitable trust. As chairwoman of Cowden Castle SCIO, I am delighted to announce that we have passed the half way mark of the restoration programme. The decision to open the garden before completion was taken due to the overwhelming support and interest in the project."


Cowden Garden Timeline


Ella Christie born in Midlothian



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

1906- 1907

Ella embarked on a tour of China, Hong Kong, Russia and Japan and was particularly impressed by the gardens.  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 - 1925

1925 - 1937

1907 - 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.


Cowden Castle demolished.


50's & 60's

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. 


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


The loch is dredged in order to clear the weeds and find the missing pieces from the lanterns.  Included in the historic Environment Scotland Inventory of Designed Landscapes.



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