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A Little Piece of Japan in Bonnie Scotland

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Kirsty Thomson: Social Media and Digital Marketing Assistant

Created in 1908, the Japanese Garden at Cowden in Clackmannanshire is a beautiful and serene hidden gem in Central Scotland.

The project to create such a spectacular garden was spearheaded by two very influential women. Ella Christie, who was born in Scotland in 1861, inherited the Cowden castle estate in 1908. A trailblazer of her time, Ella was an explorer, traveller, landowner, gardener and author as well as the first western woman to meet the Dalai Lama.

In the year 1907, Miss Christie’s travels led her to Japan. She was in awe of the formal style of gardening she saw there and set about creating her own Japanese garden at her estate here in Scotland. Ella employed Taki Handa, a gifted female designer to bring her ideas to life. This move is particularly significant as stated later by Ella’s great-great-niece, “Even in 2018, Japanese women are not allowed to be credited to a design of this size.” This garden at Cowden, with its size and scale, was the first and only one of its kind to have been designed by a woman. After having been tasked with this project, Taki Handa worked with Ella to create the garden which became known as, ‘the place of pleasure and delight’

Ahead of its time, the garden acts as an authentic link between the cultures of both Scotland and Japan. Miss Ella Christie of Cowden passed away in 1949 but her unique and beautiful garden was kept in the family. Unfortunately, in the 1960s, the gardens were the target of vandalism which resulted in considerable damage to the wooden structures. In 2008 the garden found itself again under new ownership with Miss Christie’s great, great niece Sara Stewart. This sparked an extensive project with volunteers from all over the world helping to bring the gardens back to their former glory.

The Japanese Garden in its current state, has undergone considerable regeneration and although there are still some areas to be restored, visitors can enjoy all that this garden has to offer. This includes several acres of Japanese inspired landscaping and pathways with a lake at its centre. Within the landscape is a dry garden or ‘karesansui. Here, rocks are arranged to represent a turtle and a crane which are symbols of good fortune. These arrangements are surrounded by sand which is raked daily to give a sense of rippling water. There are two very unique bridges within the garden. One is known as the ‘yatsuhashi’ zigzag bridge, the other is the ‘sorihashi’ arched bridge. Together they represent the journey that we take through life.

It is no surprise that the Japanese Garden, Cowden was featured on Channel 5 programme, Secret Scotland, as it is a truly unique hidden gem of Scotland brought to life by two very progressive women who have created a piece of Japan in Central Scotland.

Booking is essential if planning a visit. On site is a tearoom which provides quality food and drinks. The site is wheelchair accessible and within walking distance from the small village of Muckhart which is on the bus route from Stirling to Kinross.

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