Hidden between narrow pathways in Dharga Town lies one of Sri Lanka’s best kept secrets, the residence and garden of Bevis William Frederick Bawa, one of the most renowned landscape designers of Sri Lanka. This is Brief Gardens.
Spanning across 20 acres surrounded by wilderness, paddy fields and the odd house, Brief is not an easy place to find, in fact it would be a treasure hunt if you attempt it without any assistance from the local tu-tuk drivers. Although it’s only 20 minutes from Aluthgama town to the gardens, the journey will make you wonder otherwise, but let it not discourage you as it is definitely worth a visit, particularly for those who love nature and big open spaces.
Brief Gardens is now owned and comes under the guardianship of Dooland De Silva, a landscape designer and a trusted friend of Bevis Bawa, who inherited the property at the landscape designer’s demise.
Narrating the story about the gardens and how it came to be, Dooland explained that Bevis came to this area in 1929 at the young age of 20 years to take over the management of the family rubber plantation.
“While managing the plantation, he decided to build his home here even though this area didn’t have electricity at that point of time. As years passed by he sold his estate piece by piece and used that money to develop his residence and garden. After 40 years of working on it, Brief Gardens was finally completed in 1970 and two years later he was asked to open it to the public,” he explained.
Brief Gardens is made up of various elements in different elevations from contrasting sizes of manicured lawns to little nooks and corners and passageways that lead to secret gardens that can only be discovered if you go looking for them. If you’re feet are curious enough you’re bound to find the little spots ideal for reading or a place where you can admire the beauty of this green treasure without being noticed.
Dooland explains that prominent architect, Geoffrey Bawa’s estate, Lunuganga is in fact inspired by his brother’s creation of Brief Gardens.
Bevis’s house similar to his garden is a unique piece of work, ideally located on top of a hill, overseeing the entire garden and the wilderness beyond and draws certain characteristics from Geoffrey’s style of architecture. The walls of the house are decorated with several paintings done by Bawa’s friends and associates who visited and lived with him over the decades. Most of these art pieces are signed off by celebrated artists including George Keyt, George Bevan, Donald Friend, Russel Drysdale, Rachel Southerner and Edward Scott.
When asked what Bevis was like as a person, his friend explained that he was a soft-spoken gentle giant (Bevis stood at a staggering height of 6 ‘7 inches) who had a love for cars and most of all a love for his garden. Dooland recalls Bevis spending time on the patio (his favourite place in the house) so that he can steal glances at his garden and the world beyond while attending to his day-to-day work.