Scot’s Japanese Tea House to rise from ashes after being destroyed by vandals

Lottery cash will help recreate an oriental garden in the heart of Scotland.
Lottery cash will help recreate an oriental garden in the heart of Scotland.
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It was once the jewel in the crown of a magnificent Japanese garden created by a pioneering Scottish explorer on her return from a visit to the Orient at the turn of the 20th century.

Now Ella Christie’s ceremonial lakeside Tea House, in the grounds of former Cowden Castle at the foot of the Ochil Hills in Clackmannanshire is to be reinstated after it, the gardens, lanterns, bridges and shrines were destroyed by vandals in the 1960s.

Today the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) announced a £229,500 grant for a new Tea House.

The design will be undertaken by award-winning architect Hugh Stewart, Christie’s great, great nephew.

Christie (1861-1949) was the first woman to travel from the West to meet the Dalai Lama and one of the first women to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Inspired by her solo travels to Japan, in 1908 Christie chose female designer Taki Handa to create the seven-acre site in the grounds of Cowden Castle, which fell in to disrepair and was demolished.

The Japanese garden – named Shāh-raku-en, meaning a place of pleasure – became the first and only garden of its size and scale to be designed by a woman.

The garden, with its cherry and acer trees, is being restored by a team of world-class experts including the renowned Japanese architect and garden designer Professor Masao Fukuhara – best known for winning the Gold Medal at Chelsea Flower Show as well as the restoration of the Japanese gardens at Kew.

The Lottery funding will ensure the traditional Tea House becomes a centrepiece for the garden, providing space for education and events and telling Christie’s story.

Activities will include therapeutic access for vulnerable groups as well as horticultural walks and Japanese-themed events such as Ikebana, origami and calligraphy. Path improvements will also be made and lighting installed. Describing the new Tea House, Mr Stewart said: “With deep verandas and a raised wooden platform looking towards the lake, the Tea House will be a picturesque pavilion, giving scale to the garden and will command the space it sits within. It is a careful interpretation of a simple rustic shed, a place of arrival and on occasion will allow visitors to sample a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.”

Sara Stewart, chair of Cowden Gardens and Christie’s great, great niece, said:  “Due to the support of the NLHF our visitors will have the chance to enjoy the history, culture and tranquillity The Japanese garden offers within an authentically designed Tea House.  In addition, our upgraded paths will make an incalculable difference to the overall experience for many of our visitors.  

“The trustees and staff at Cowden are immensely grateful to the NHLF for recognising the importance and value of the 110 year old garden.”

Rebecca Logan, fundraiser for the garden’s restoration, described the Lottery funding as “transformational.”

“We’ve had Japanese visitors to the garden who say it is the best they’ve ever visited, including in Japan.”

Caroline Clark, director Scotland of NLHF, said: “Thanks to National Lottery funding, even more people will be able to explore this hidden gem and experience the unique bridge it creates between Scottish and Japanese culture.”