Described in 1925 as the most critical Japanese garden in the West, the Japanese Garden at Cowden in Clackmannanshire — the ancestral household of Sara Stewart — fell into decline and was inevitably shut in 1955. Now, it has been magnificently restored, as Caroline Donald explains. Photos by Clive Nichols.
Central to the creation of the Japanese Backyard at Cowden is a series of adventurous ladies. The tale begins with Isabella ‘Ella’ Christie (1861–1949): a single of the initial ladies to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, she spoke 4 languages and travelled to faraway lands, such as Kashmir, Tibet, Borneo and Malaya, preserving meticulous diaries. In 1925, she posted By means of Khiva to Golden Samarkand, an account of her travels along the Silk Road through the Russian empire.
Nonetheless, it was the otherworldly gardens of Tokyo and Kyoto that motivated her on a go to in 1907, 3 a long time before the wonderful Japanese exhibition at White Town of 1910 kicked off a fad for Japonisme in Britain. ‘You can consider what it was like, having never even witnessed a photograph of a Japanese yard,’ says Christie’s fantastic-niece Sara Stewart. ‘They need to have appeared so extraordinary: a little bit like how we felt when man landed on the moon.’
With only a couple reference books to guideline her, but possessed of a generous purse, the intrepid Christie resolved that she would generate her personal Japanese yard — 1 of the first in the country — on the estate around Greenback in Clackmannanshire where by she lived. By excellent fortune, Taki Handa, a Kyoto-trained designer, was learning at Studley Horticultural and Agricultural Higher education in Warwickshire and was introduced on board to style and design Shã Raku En, ‘the Position of Satisfaction and Delight’, a garden as whole of meaning and symbolism as those people in Japan, but in a seven-acre hollow nestling beneath the Ochil Hills.
Surrounding a reflective pond — made by damming a burn up — with an island back garden, a stroll back garden and a tea-house backyard garden, Shã Raku En would be described in 1925 by Jijo Suzuki, Hereditary Head of the Soami College of Imperial Garden Style, as ‘the most significant Japanese backyard in the Western World’, not only for its integrity, but because it was accredited to a woman designer — to this working day a rarity in Japan.
The professor himself was employed to assistance place the architecture, as properly as planting and pruning some of the treasured trees and shrubs imported from Japan, and the backyard remained a web site of pilgrimage for readers and students of Japanese design and style right until its closure in 1955.
As a child in the early 1970s, Mrs Stewart remembers currently being taken out on the lake for birthday get-togethers in an old, wooden, flat-bottomed boat by her father, Sir Robert ‘Bobby’ Stewart, who died in 2019, but the yard was by then really overgrown. A terrible fireplace started off by trespassing nearby school- boys in 1963 had destroyed all of Christie’s wood Japanese properties and the boys had even kicked the stone lanterns close to the pond into the h2o. ‘My father was so devastated by what they did to the garden that, whilst he saved on loving it, he couldn’t justify the maintenance following the vandalism.’
By the 1980s, it was almost impenetrable, conserve for a narrow path along the pond. ‘It was a mass of rhododendron and laurel and conifers — yews that were at the time a hedge were being now trees,’ recalls Mrs Stewart. ‘There were being maples, but you could hardly see them. Their colors in October ended up completely amazing, but they have been suffocated you had to bash your way via the rhododendrons to see them.’
Speedy ahead some 60 yrs from the closure and, from 2014, it has been Mrs Stewart, founder and taking care of director of London portrait gallery Fine Artwork Commissions, who has taken up the baton from her intrepid good-aunt and awakened the backyard from its slumbers. ‘Historic Environment Scotland was indicating it was just about at the level of no return,’ reveals Mrs Stewart, into whose treatment her father experienced put the back garden.
They set out the word and Masao Fukuhara from Osaka University of Arts, who had gained a Gold medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Exhibit and also worked on the restorations of Japanese gardens at Tatton Park in Cheshire and at Kew Gardens, requested to pay a visit to the backyard as he was about in Britain to give a lecture. He brought along his Kent-primarily based landscape architect assistant, Ai Hishii. ‘I have acquired a photograph of when they initial observed it. Ai’s face is a photo: it obviously seemed nothing like she assumed it would,’ suggests Mrs Stewart. Nevertheless, Prof Fukuhara available to be associated, suggesting £50,000 as a budget. ‘When a person of that pedigree was inquiring to restore it, I knew it was worthy of executing.’
It was soon noticeable that his estimate was only heading to cover the 1st handful of months of clearing the web site, so Mrs Stewart set up a charitable have faith in to fund the operate incrementally, somewhat than use for full funding, which would have taken 4 or 5 a long time to organise. Seeking again, she thinks this has been the ideal method: ‘It has price me a fortune, but that was my choice. I preferred the bones to be completed in Dad’s life span — we had Dad’s 90th birthday party there and performed his favourite passage of new music from Madame Butterfly on the island.’
It has also allowed several locals to become associated over the yrs. ‘This suggests a lot more to my household it has grow to be a area that every person loves,’ says Mrs Stewart. ‘So numerous persons have been coming again yr right after year and we all learnt as we went alongside.’ Locals involve the landscape contractor Dave McCullough, whose work it was to clear the website and then aid with the fantastic alignment of the lanterns and stones close to the garden. ‘Sometimes, he would be in a little device holding the stones for a working day, as the professor moved them by fifty percent an inch again and forth.’
Nowadays, Rob Grindrod, late of Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in Dorset, is the head gardener in cost of protecting the existing planting of trees and shrubs with Japanese relevance (azaleas, hydrangeas and acers do perfectly here camellias not so) and introducing more. ‘I would like to get it back again to becoming as fantastic as it was in Ella’s day,’ he claims. ‘Japanese folks say it is far too open up at the minute.’
There have been new aspects additional, such as embellishments to the dry yard, always with authenticity in mind. ‘I had Ella on my shoulders and I knew that, if I did it badly, it would be a scar on a fairly hill,’ suggests Mrs Stewart. It would seem this is not the situation: having been explained to that she could count on 10,000 site visitors a yr at most, past 12 months, there were 45,000. Christie would surely approve.
The Japanese Back garden at Cowden, Clackmannanshire, is open right up until December 22 — cowden-back garden.myshopify.com
Caroline Donald visits the yard at Kestle Barton Gallery, around Helford, Cornwall, a garden that marries an award-successful art gallery
In the depths of winter season at Drummond Castle, around Crieff, Perthshire, the crisp outlines of the 11 miles of box