- Down memory lane with Brief Garden proprietor Dooland de Silva, who has been ‘pottering around’ the property for over 50 years
By Marianne David
A secluded paradise, Brief Garden in Beruwala provides a perfect escape in the south of Sri Lanka – one that will remove you from the pace and noise of the world outside and transplant you into a private space that soothes the eye and uplifts the soul.
Words and pictures cannot do justice to the wonder that is Brief Garden. One simply has to go there and drink in the beauty oneself. Revisiting the place in my mind a month after visiting, I can feel myself slipping into that quiet world again that even now seems surreal.
Created by renowned landscape architect Bevis Bawa (1909-1992), Brief Garden encompasses five acres of meticulously-planned, lush, green gardens filled with art and private nooks. From sensual statues to still ponds and bright blue doors to captivating works of art – everything surrounded by green, green, green – this space is a serene escape.
How it began
Reminiscing on how Brief Garden came to be, Dooland de Silva – who inherited the property in 1992 and is a landscape designer himself – went back in time several decades.
Bevis Bawa, who was also a soldier and a planter, had retired from the Army in 1950 and committed himself to developing the garden and the bungalow. The garden had been completed in 1970 and opened to the public thereafter.
“Bevis Bawa was at Royal College. At one point he had been transferred to a class called ‘The Remove’ and the British Headmaster had told him, ‘It’s time for you to choose in line with the motto of the school’ [learn or depart]. He had been sent to England at a young age and read English and Law at Cambridge. He started practising in London and came here as a barrister, where he practised for four years. He was a planter, a soldier, and aide-de-camp to the last four British governors in then Ceylon.
“This was their family property and he took to planting so he had been sent here by his mother to manage their rubber plantation – Brief Estate – of about 200 acres. As soon as he came here he had taken such a liking to the area that he had decided to live here. There had only been a hut here at the time and he had immediately started building the house.”
As things stood, Bawa was not a businessman so he lived off his capital and sold land until he was down to 30 acres, recalled Dooland. By the time he reached his 70s, he had divided 24 acres among his personal staff and had been left with what now comprises Brief Garden and the residence.
Bevis and Dooland
Dooland, who was in England in 1968-’69, joined Bawa as his secretary upon his return to the country.
“He was looking for someone who could type and I could, so I joined as secretary and eventually I became the manager. When I got married, Bawa told me to start a nursery. My salary was Rs. 300 and he had very little money; he knew I could not live on Rs. 300. I told him I did not want his money because he was having difficulties. Two other staff members also did the same.”
Dooland then began his own nursery and started reading extensively about gardening and slowly began to make a name for himself in landscaping among architects.
The name Brief Garden came about due to tuk drivers and tourists in the area terming it so, said Dooland. “This house was called The Brief. Then the place was named Brief Garden by the tuk drivers and tourists. It was also called Bawa House, along with Lunuganga and No. 87,” (designed by Geoffrey Bawa, legendary architect and brother of Bevis).
“When Geoffrey used to come here, he would take a few books saying he would return them and never returned them. When Bevis would go to Geoffrey’s, he would take back his own books plus around two other books and bring them here!” Dooland recalled, speaking of the wide collection of books in the house and telling us about some of the paintings.
Life at Brief
Speaking about the relationship he shared with Bawa, Dooland said: “Bevis Bawa was a gentleman; he taught me a lot and corrected me in manners and so on. He treated me as his son and also introduced me as his son. Bawa had written Brief to me in his last will and I was aware of it. Everyone else had already been given land. He gave all his staff property and built houses for them – six houses for the people who looked after him.”
When Bawa passed on the five-acre garden to Dooland, he had not insisted that it be maintained in its original state. “He said, ‘It’s yours, freehold – do whatever you want with it.’ I am a landscape designer myself, but my adding to it won’t be as great so I only maintain the garden as it is.”
In 1992, Bawa passed away at Brief in his sleep and his ashes are interred at his beloved garden.
Dooland, who was 25 when he met Bawa and is 77 now, has lived most of his life at Brief. Sitting in the shade of the araliya tree planted by Bawa in 1929, Dooland reminisced: “I’ve been pottering around in this garden for 50 years…”
(Our visit to Brief Garden was organised by the Sheraton Kosgoda Turtle Beach Resort, showcasing places of interest in the vicinity during a stay there. Sheraton Kosgoda’s prime positioning offers quick access to many captivating places in the south of Sri Lanka, ensuring hassle-free excursions.)
- Brief Garden is located in Beruwala, about 10 km inland; around a 20 minute drive from Aluthgama town and half-an-hour’s drive from Kosgoda
- Brief Garden is open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closes at 5 p.m.
- Entrance fees – Locals and expats Rs. 2,000; foreign nationals $ 10
- Walk-in visits are allowed while lunch and evening tea are served with prior notice for a minimum of four people and a maximum of 35
PHOTOS LALITH PERERA