Who was Isabella "Ella" Robertson Christie?
Isabella "Ella" Robertson Christie FRSGS FSA Scot FRGS was a pioneering Scottish traveller and explorer, landowner, gardener and author.
Life and Work
Ella Christie was born on 21 April 1861 at Millbank in Cockpen, near Bonnyrigg, to Alison (née Philp, c.1817–1894) and John Christie (1824–1902), a Scottish industrialist and landowner. Christie had an elder brother, John Coldwells who died in childhood in his 12th year in 1872, and a younger sister, Alice Margaret.
In 1865, Christie's father purchased the Castleton estate in the Ochils, renaming it Cowden Castle, and the family moved there.
From 1904 to 1905 she travelled with her maid, Humphries, initially to India and then on to Kashmir, Tibet, Ceylon, Malaya and Borneo. According to the Japanese Garden, “at Chorbat Pass she camped in the snow; she sailed in a cargo ship full of pigs; travelled by packhorse and cart in the Kashmir wilderness; and trekked by foot for 60 miles in the Desoi Mountains”.
After her visit to Japan in 1907 Christie was inspired to create a 7 acres (2.8 ha) Japanese garden at her home at Cowden Castle. She employed Taki Handi, from the Royal School of Garden Design in Nagoya, to help plan and design the garden. Christie was advised on the form, maintenance and development of the garden by Professor Jijo Soya Suzuki, Master of the Soami School of Imperial Design.
In 1916, Christie travelled to France to become the manager of the L'Oeuvre de la Goutte de Café at Bar-sur-Aube. This network of cafés was established by the French and British Red Cross as places for tired soldiers to relax and rest.
Following Christie's death in 1949, the garden and land was inherited by her nephew, Robert Christie Stewart, and was maintained by workers on the Cowden estate.
Unfortunately, in 1963 it was vandalised and the tea-houses and bridges were burned, and the lanterns and shrines knocked into the loch. However much of its essential form remains, including plantings, the plan and form and low-lying structures, including symbolic stones.
In 2014, Christie's great great niece Sara Stewart started a fundraising campaign to raise £1,000,000 to restore the garden. The garden opened in 2019.