Background & History
Background & History
Please be aware that there will be ongoing works at the garden throughout the next few months. We will aim to keep the disruption to a minimum during opening hours but please be patient whilst we get through these needed improvements.
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."
Ella Christie born in Midlothian
John and Alison Christie (parents) moved to Cowden Castle. They settled in Clackmannanshire as the soil and climate is perfect for growing trees. John Christie was a keen 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 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.
On her return to Dollar in Clackmannanshire, Ella had the burn dammed in a 7 acre hollow at Cowden Castle, creating a loch. Taki Handa originally from the Royal School of Garden Design at Nagoya, but at that time studying at Studley College in England, was employed by Miss Christie for two months to help create Shã Raku En, ‘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 at Nagoya, came regularly to Cowden 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.
PROFESSOR SUZUKI AT COWDEN
1925 - 1937
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 strange land was the reason for the subsequent success of the enterprise.
SHINZABURO MATSUO, CARETAKER OF THE JAPANESE GARDEN FROM 1925-1937
1907 - 1949
Many people visited the garden, among them writer and historian, Andrew Lang, novelist Annie S. Swan, George Blake and H.M. Queen Mary. The garden was opened regularly for Scotland’s Garden Scheme (Alice Stewart, Ella’s sister, was the co-founder of Scotland’s Garden Scheme).
QUEEN MARY AT COWDEN, 1937 (ROBERT STEWART NEXT TO ELLA CHRISTIE ON THE RIGHT)
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.
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.
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.
Professor Masao Fukuhara from Osaka University of Arts, Japan appointed to restore the garden.
Start of restoration. Formation of the charity: The Japanese Garden at Cowden Castle, Charity No. SC045060.