Tayside and Central Scotland

Japanese garden vandalised in 1960s to reopen

Japanese garden
Image caption The original garden was created in the early 1900s by explorer Ella Christie

A historic Japanese garden destroyed by vandals 50 years ago will reopen later this year after being restored.

Work on the Japanese garden at Cowden Castle in Clackmannanshire began in 2014.

Created in the early 1900s by explorer Ella Christie, it is among the few surviving sites of its kind in the UK.

The garden is considered internationally important because it was the first to be designed by a female Japanese designer.

Taki Handa had come to the UK to study horticulture and met Ms Christie, who commissioned her to design and build a Japanese garden.

Born in 1861, Ms Christie had travelled widely in Asia and visited many countries, including Japan.

She was inspired by the gardens she had seen in Kyoto and Tokyo to plan her own Japanese-style garden in the grounds of her home at Cowden, near Dollar.

Image caption The garden is being restored by Prof Fukuhara (centre) and Ai Hishii, seen here with BBC Scotland's arts correspondent Pauline McLean

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.

The garden was vandalised in the 1960s and none of the original built structures have survived, but many of its features still remain - including plantings and its symbolic stones.

The restoration is being carried out by one of Japan's leading landscape architects, Prof Fukuhara, with the assistance of Ai Hishii.

The professor said Taki Handa's "passion and enthusiasm" was still evident in the garden.

"When we first visited to do the survey, it was covered with overgrown plants and trees and we thought the garden... had been in the care of nature for a very long time," he said.

"But we started to dig to find evidence of the garden, little by little, and we found evidence of a beautiful Japanese garden - perhaps the most beautiful Japanese garden at the time. So we felt we need to restore this garden"

Image caption The first public opening of the garden in more than 60 years will be held in September

Until recently, the garden was privately owned by Ms Christie's great nephew, Sir Robert Stewart. It is now owned by a charitable trust and managed by Sir Robert's daughter, Sara Stewart.

Ms Stewart told BBC Scotland the restoration was "sensational" and said they were privileged to have Prof Fukuhara leading the project.

"We're incredibly lucky to have him - he's like a rock god in Japan," she said.

The garden will have its first public opening since 1955 on 3 September at a ticketed event, but Ms Stewart said she hoped the site would be fully opened to the public in 2017 - if they can raise another £1m.

"I really want to see it complete for my father, who's 90 this year. This was his dream and he's an incurable romantic, so he loves the continuing story," she said.

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