The Japanese Garden, Cowden Castle, Scotland A Restoration Appeal
The Japanese Garden at Cowden is situated in the beautiful county of Clackmannanshire, thirty miles north-west of Edinburgh and nine miles south of the renowned Gleneagles Golf Course.
One of the few surviving sites of its kind in the United Kingdom, the Japanese Garden was created by my great, great aunt, Ella Christie (1861–1949). Known for her ambitious solo expeditions in the early 1900s (she was the first western woman to visit Samarkand and Khiva in Uzbekistan), Ella was inspired to create a Japanese garden at her home, Cowden Castle, during a visit to Kyoto in 1907. At that time the British cultural love-affair with Japan was approaching its height, but while many other Japanese-style gardens in Britain were a pastiche or mismatch of elements, Cowden was distinguished from the start by the involvement of Japanese practitioners familiar with the complexity of Japanese garden design.
Ella’s seven acre garden was designed by Taki Handa, overseen by Professor Jijo Suzuki and maintained by Shinzaburo Matsuo. Centred on a long artificial lake, the garden incorporated elements of three traditional Japanese garden forms: a pond and island garden; a stroll garden; and a tea-house garden.
Ella Christie died in 1949 and Cowden was inherited by her great nephew, Robert Stewart. Although the castle was demolished, the garden continued to be the favoured destination of many ‘garden tours’, until one night in 1963 when the tea houses, bridges and lanterns were vandalised beyond repair. During this time my father was occupied with county politics, his farm and raising five children. As much as he loved Cowden, he didn’t have the time, or the resources, to invest in full restoration. In addition, schemes suggested by various companies focussed on novelty theme parks; none of the designs saw the value of the garden as the primary destination.
In 2008, when my father was 82, Cowden was handed over to me. It has been my intention for some years to seek sponsorship to restore the historic garden and sensitively incorporate Imperial style Japanese architecture. The surrounding park still contains many of the trees planted by Ella’s father John Christie, a keen arborist.
In 2013 Professor Masao Fukuhara of Osaka University of Arts was giving a lecture in Scotland and asked to visit Cowden. Instantly enthusiastic, and with credentials that included restoring the Japanese Gardens at Tatton Park in Cheshire and Kew in London as well as winning the Gold Medal at Chelsea Flower Show, we knew instantly that the Professor was the man to oversee the project.
Restoration of this important site is a monumental task, but I feel passionately for its success; not just for those with an interest in historic gardens, but for the people of Japan who will be able to visit and enjoy another shared interest in Scotland.