BY Nicola Jayasundera
Enter a world of legendary landscapes hidden only 10 kilometres inland from Bentota. Nestled within a tropical countryside, the Brief Garden by Bevis Bawa artfully resembles English gardens, and local architecture and designs.
You can lose yourself in this magical environment – a sense of peace and tranquillity will envelop you, and evoke a feeling that you’re walking through a fantasy novel.
An intricately designed wrought iron gate guarded by two elaborately carved human sculptures opens up to a small gravel road that’s lined with palms and bamboo. A drive through this grove takes you to a clearing that reveals the bright yellow, black and white entrance that is the portal to Bevis Bawa’s country home.
And you’re free to dive into this tropical jungle paradise upon being granted permission by the caretaker.
These 20 acres of garden are home to over 106 types of trees and even more flora, which has yet to be counted. With its exotic fusion of an Italian villa, English landscape and tropical forest, this garden will have you reliving a long forgotten tale of romance, mystery and drama.
A variety of stone sculptures that range from homoerotic Roman style men to Sri Lankan demon masks, animals and Chinese mini pagodas dot the property in hidden corners. Seats in secluded places offer R&R to wandering visitors – they can sit, relax and enjoy the cool breezes, rustling leaves, twittering birds and the occasional hoot of an owl.
There are many paths to choose from, and each will take you through different sections of the garden and eventually lead you back to the house.
Bawa’s villa is strategically placed at the highest point of the estate, and the caretaker will accompany you as you explore its architecture and artefacts. Painted a soft shade of yellow with terra cotta tiles, the design makes for a smooth transition from architecture to nature with open salons, verandas and patios.
Born in 1909 with a mix of Moor, English, German, Scottish and Sinhalese roots, Bevis Bawa volunteered for the Ceylon Light Infantry at a young age and climbed through the ranks to Major. As one of the first officers of the newly formed Ceylon Defence Force (CDF), Bawa was also one of only nine Majors in the CDF at the time.
He began running the Brief Estate, which was the family owned rubber plantation, in 1929 and inherited it in 1949. Following his retirement from the army in 1950, Bawa committed himself to developing the garden and estate bungalow, and subsequently took up residence at the property.
Brief Garden was eventually completed in 1970 and opened to the public in 1972. His former employee Dooland De Silva inherited the property after his death in 1992 – he became the manager, head gardener and landscape designer of Brief Garden.
Bevis Bawa was mainly a landscape gardener, sculptor and painter, but also dabbled in writing and caricatures.
A brief visit to the rear of the house will take you to Bawa’s private open bathroom suite. It’s complete with a full-length mirror and stone bathtub, and carved in the likeness of Bawa is a sculpture that supplies water to the tub.
You’ll also find a stunning mural of traditional Sri Lankan village life in the living room painted by Australian artist and diarist Donald Stuart Leslie Friend in the style of Marc Chagall – a Russian-French artist of Belarusian Jewish origin.