History

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.

 

Timeline

1861

Ella Christie born in Midlothian

 

1865

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.

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 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

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

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

1926

Ella’s great nephew, Robert Christie Stewart born at Arndean, Dollar, 2 miles south of Cowden.

ROBERT AND GRIZEL STEWART, JAPANESE GARDEN, 1930

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 one of the founders of Scotland’s Garden Scheme).

QUEEN MARY AT COWDEN, 1937 (ROBERT STEWART NEXT TO ELLA CHRISTIE ON THE RIGHT)

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 lectures to garden history groups.

 

 

THE JAPANESE GARDEN, MAY 28TH 1955 © IAN CAMPBELL

50's and 60's

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 one night of mayhem. 

2008

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

2010

Taki Handa’s granddaughter visits the garden

2010

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.

 

2013

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROFESSOR FUKUHARA AND JUNYA DISCUSSING THE REMNANTS OF LANTERNS

 

2014

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

A3. The Japanese Garden at Cowden Castle from Scottish Heritage Angel Awards on Vimeo.

Please contact our Events Co-ordinator to check availability and to arrange an appointment for a personal viewing of the Gardens and available facilities.

Contact: Rachael McGaffney

07493018700

Events@cowdengarden.com