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.
"At the turn of the 20th Century, the Scottish adventurer Ella Christie returned home from a trip to 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."
Isabella 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.
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’TAKI HANDA
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
Ella’s great nephew, Robert Christie Stewart born at Arndean, Dollar, 2 miles south of Cowden.ROBERT AND GRIZEL STEWART, JAPANESE GARDEN, 1930
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
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 one of the founders 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.
THE JAPANESE GARDEN, MAY 28TH 1955 © IAN CAMPBELL
Teenagers scaled the perimeter wall and broke into the garden. The two Tea Houses and bridges were burnt to the ground. Antique lanterns brought over from Japan were pushed into the water during a night of mayhem. They were witnessed fleeing the scene dressed in their school uniforms.
Bobby Stewart continued to give private tours and lectures to garden history groups. The garden was handed over to Ella's great, great niece and Bobby's daughter, Sara Stewart.
The pond was dredged to clear weeds and locate the missing pieces and antique lanturns. Inclusion in the historic Environment Scotland Inventory of Designed Landscapes.
Professor Masao Fukuhara from Osaka University of Arts requests to visit to Cowden. He was swiftly appointed to restore The Japanese Garden.
Start of the restoration and formation of the charity: The Japanese Garden at Cowden Castle, Charity No.SC0450602017 - The Japanese Garden is opened to the public.
Garden Pavilion is commissioned to replace the Boathouse.2021 - The new addition of the Wisteria Arbour in the garden, and athe arrival of our temporary Shop, Tearoom and Ticket Office. 2022 - The Garden restoration is almost complete, with the addition of Ella's Summer House and the opening of the Garden Pavilion. These are soon to be joined by the Revolving Sun Shade.