I was looking at our travel photos taken before I had a blog and thought even though it was back in 2003 when we visited Sri Lanka, the garden and home of Bevis Bawa was worth a post now for my ‘tastetraveller’ followers.
An Australian connection to the Bawa brothers is the late Australian artist Donald Friend who resided for a few years at Brief. Whilst there Donald Friend created some permanent artworks, the wall tiles seen here are a permanent legacy of the artist. He also collaborated with Bevis in making some sculptures that are still in the grounds. We saw a painting in the house by Donald Friend but the caretaker told us that it has an uncertain future. He mentioned that an Australian curator had visited and had been looking for support to provide enough funds to preserve it, as it was deteriorating. Maybe since 2003 some money has been raised for its conservation.
The story of the Bawa family in Sri Lanka is an interesting one. Geoffrey Bawa was the academic and qualified first as a lawyer in the UK and later returned to the UK to study architecture. Bevis did not show the aptitude of his brother Geoffrey, so after their mother became widowed she set Bevis up on a rubber estate – this was Brief in south western Sri Lanka. Bevis combined his life as a rubber planter with a career as a part-time soldier and as equerry to several British governors – in succession.
Geoffrey who was ten years younger than Bevis was so inspired by the garden Bevis had created at Brief that he bought an abandoned estate Lunuganga and transformed it for his home and landscaped the gardens. When he became so interested in architecture and design he returned to England and studied architecture and gained a second degree.
Whilst Geoffrey’s reputation outside of Sri Lanka became the more prominent, Bevis was no shrinking violet, he was known as quite a wit.. and wrote a weekly series of articles for the Sunday Observer in Colombo. He also drew well and his drawings included hundreds of caricatures and around a hundred were loaned from their owners for an exhibition in 1981.
Bevis was eventually to become very successful when he ran a plant nursery and a landscape design consultancy. It was at this time that Donald Friend was living there and together they designed garden statuary.
The garden at Bevis is a series of gardens that conceal and then reveal as you make your way around the property. Bevis planted thick clusters of the same plants for a resounding effect and chose, or made sculptures and outdoor furniture that he placed in strategic places to create points of interest. The statuary and generally stone furniture appear as elegant counterpoints for the delicate tropical foliage. He also designed many gargoyle style sculptures to introduce a tone of humour and whimsy into the garden.
When we arrived at Brief, the young man who is caretaker, said that funds to maintain the property were extremely short and discussions were going on with authorities about who should be contributing to the future of the Brief estate.
Geoffrey Bawa died the year of our visit in 2003 and since then his private estate is open for paying guests and casual visitors. His Lunuganga is high on the list for our next visit.
These directions are how we found the estate and you need an experienced guide as it was quite a convoluted set of directions but then we were not easily deterred.
TO VISIT BRIEF FROM COLOMBO, take the Galle Road south along the coast to Alutgama, just half a mile short of the popular resort town of Bentota. At Alutgama junction, turn left and pass through the predominantly Muslim community of Dharga Town, avoiding the potholes, pedestrians and careering white-capped cyclists. Beyond the town, look for a turning to the left marked by a yellow wooden sign; the sign is quite small – keep your eyes peeled- and says “Brief” in ornate red letters. Follow the road for about two kilometres. The next turning is on the right, and marked by another red-and yellow sign saying “Brief Short Cut.” It marks a narrow road that ends at the Bawa estate. One more sign saying “To gardens” points up the drive to Bevis’s front door. If in doubt at any point, ask; all the locals know Bevis. The gardens are open to the public. There is a small entrance fee.
Brief is managed by Wettimmuni Dooland Amarasiri de Silva and is open to visitors on payment of a modest entrance fee. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lunugana is administered by a non-profit making Trust that Geoffrey Bawa established before his death. About 60 ks south of Colombo and 3 ks to the south-east of the resort town of Bentota. Email: Leopold@eureka.lk
The book ‘Bawa, the Sri Lanka gardens’ has the entire story of the family. Written by David Robson and Dominic Sanson, Thames Hudson.