Sunday

Scotland on Sunday Travel Wishlist – A Scottish Zen garden inspired by a Victorian adventurer’s travels in Japan

From Kyoto to Cowden, Eastern-inspired gardens are places of tranquility

Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 10:25 am

Ella Christie in the Japanese Garden she created at Cowden near Dollar in 1908

A vibrant pink lily on the still waters, a lichen palette of green on grey stone, a tame robin and a bounding red squirrel were all magical in their own restful way.This sense of peace is what I remember from visiting Japan. Amid the relentless bustle of the cities there would be an unexpected haven of calm. Kyoto was the garden capital, but Tokyo and Hiroshima had their silent sanctuaries as well.It was in Kyoto that I first encountered the concept of the rock garden, or Karesansui. It was in Ryōan-ji’s Zen garden that I relished the challenge of finding the stones in the seemingly featureless expanse of grey. That step from bigger picture down to detail is a deeply calming experience.And that same feeling envelops me on the slopes of the Ochils. From the grand views across the Forth Valley, through the postcard-perfect scene of the garden itself, down to the water lily.Yet this peaceful garden is the vision of a woman who had a great energy for adventure. Born in 1861, Isabella “Ella” Christie travelled the world when most Scottish women of her social standing were running the Victorian home. Scotland has a long tradition of adventurers and explorers, but to travel as widely and freely as Ella did is noteworthy in itself.As her great-great-niece Sara Stewart explained: “She went to places that no Western woman had been. She was unbelievably brave and that was how she wanted to spend her life. Ella had been brought up as though she had been a son, so she had been very well educated and wanted to see more of