“The Most Important Japanese Garden in the Western World”

…so said Professsor Jijo Suzuki, 18th Hereditary Head of the Soami School of Imperial Garden Design, of the 7 acre Japanese garden at Cowden, Clackmannanshire, in 1925. This fabulous site, incorporating traditional Japanese stroll, tea house and pond-and-island gardens, was created in the early 1900’s by Japanese practitioners and maintained for many years by a resident Japanese gardener. In 1963 the bridges, tea houses & lanterns were vandalised beyond repair and the garden has languished until recently, when a restoration project was launched, with the works being overseen by Professor Matsao Fukuhara, Osaka University of Arts, an avid supporter of the promotion of the art of Japanese garden making in the West (those who follow this blog regularly may remember my description of the Japanese garden workshop run by the Professor in Bridge of Allan last year – see September 2013).

I had the pleasure of visiting the garden this week, to pay my respects to the Professor and his team, and to see the first phase of the restoration project.  A fundraising appeal has been launched to support the restoration project and ongoing maintenance, and I have included a link to the detailed website set up by the garden’s owner, Sara Stewart, where you can find more information about the garden, it’s history, and most importantly, how you can help to support this important project, if you feel moved to do so. www.cowdencastle.com

This plan of the garden and the proposed development phases was taken from the fundraising appeal brochure, a full of copy of which can be downloaded from the Cowden Castle website.  Phase 1 work is already under way, with reconstruction of the pond-and-island garden and the two adjacent flat gardens almost completed.  In order to achieve this work, the artificial lake has been dredged and the many of the original stones have been rescued from the muddy depths by hand – slow, dirty work thankfully helped by the dry Indian summer weather.

This photo was taken from the east end of the lake, looking down towards the dredged end and the phase 1 works, and, on this calm and clear day, shows just what a fabulous location this is (you can just see the Ochils behind the trees in the distance).

Phase 1 work includes the flat garden with the lantern on the left of the photo, plus the undulating mounds of the flat garden in the right foreground plus a member of the Japanese work team excavating rocks from the muddy late bed.  The island with zig-zag yatsu-hashi bridge can be seen to the right of the dumper trunk.

Restoring the pond-and-island garden, using a mixture of recovered stones and rounded wooden stakes as retaining structures

Stepping stone and stone bridge detail, plus rocky islands – once the water level rises this will be achieve its full effect.

Stepping stone detail on the island, with heavily pruned Rhododendrons and a rock-lined water channel in the foreground.

Looking across the pond-and-island garden to the soon-to-be grassy mounds of the SW flat garden.

Reinstated lantern in the flat garden on the northern bank of the lake, with the island behind.

This is a vast restoration project, and I feel privileged to have been able to visit to see the works in progress, especially as I saw the garden in its overgrown state about 8 years ago. I am very much looking forward to seeing the garden come back to life, and I will definitely be providing financial support for the maintenance of the garden, as this is key to retaining the character of Japanese gardens. I hope to be able to make further reports as the work continues but in the meantime, do have a look at the web link www.cowdencastle.comfor more detailed information and history about the garden.

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