Cowden Japanese Garden

Set deep in the Clackmannanshire countryside is a ruinous Japanese-style garden which is undergoing an amazing transformation.

The garden at Cowden was the vision of Ella Christie, a dynamic and visionary female landowner and explorer in the first decades of the 20th century.  It was designed and maintained throughout by Japanese practitioners like Taki Handa, a female garden designer helped create Shah-Rak-Uen, ‘the place of pleasure and delight’, and Professor Suzuki, who later developed the garden as it matured.  Despite serious vandalism in the 1960s, much of its essential structure endured.

Cowden survives as an exceptional example of the Japanese-style garden tradition in the UK and is the only Japanese-style garden on the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes.

The garden at Cowden showing the newly constructed rest house at the edge of the lake

The garden at Cowden showing the newly constructed rest house at the edge of the lake

We part-funded a conservation management plan to guide the restoration of the garden and the owners appointed Professor Masao Fukuhara to oversee the project in 2013.  He is an expert on Japanese garden design, has undertaken restoration projects throughout the world and was winner of both a gold medal and best in show at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2001.

Professor Fukuhara and his team at work in the garden

Professor Fukuhara and his team at work in the garden

We subsequently collaborated with the Cowden team, providing advice and encouragement, with the successful outcome of a conservation management plan which would inform the garden restoration.

The new welcome gate under construction. Constructed by Scottish craftsmen to the original design, it represents the collaboration between Scottish and Japanese design, skills and craftsmanship which is reflected throughout the garden.

The new welcome gate under construction. Constructed by Scottish craftsmen to the original design, it represents the collaboration between Scottish and Japanese design, skills and craftsmanship which is reflected throughout the garden.

Restoration on this unique gem has now begun and we visited last month to see the restoration team in action.

Continuing the tradition of dynamic female leadership at Cowden and in the footsteps of her great aunt, Sara Stewart is directing the project and took the time to show us around the garden last week and introduce us to Professor Fukuhara.

Sara Stewart is in charge of the restoration of her great-aunt’s garden

Sara Stewart is in charge of the restoration of her great-aunt’s garden

The garden still belongs to Ella Christie’s descendants, who have leased it to a charity in order to raise funds for the restoration.

Under the skilled and dedicated direction of the Scottish and Japanese team at Cowden, the garden has been saved for future generations and is once again re-emerging as Shah-Rak-Uen, ‘the place of pleasure and delight’.

Want to find out more about the gardens and designed landscapes of Scotland? Visit our website or get in touch with us on Twitter @HistEnvScot.


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About Author

Catherine Middleton

Catherine works in the Heritage Management Directorate dealing with casework relating to Scotland’s nationally important gardens and designed landscapes. Outside of work, she is a keen gardener and walker.