Belle - - Gar­den -

If the stone gar­den walls of the Brief gar­den in Sri Lanka could talk, they’d have plenty of sto­ries to tell. They’d speak of lav­ish par­ties at­tended by the who’s-who of Sri Lankan so­ci­ety, long and lin­ger­ing gin and tonic after­noons on the veran­dah, and eclec­tic gath­er­ings of in­ter­na­tional artists, politi­cians and lo­cal plan­ta­tion own­ers. They’d speak, too, of the artis­tic air of the man who cre­ated them – Be­vis Bawa, older brother of the famed ar­chi­tect Ge­of­frey. The Brief gar­den is a Bawa mas­ter­piece.

Be­vis moved to Brief as a young man in the late 1920s. The 80-hectare rub­ber plan­ta­tion owned by his par­ents (it was named Brief af­ter a suc­cess­ful le­gal case won by his lawyer fa­ther) was where Be­vis, who had shown lit­tle in­ter­est in study­ing, was to be­come a planter. Soon af­ter mov­ing in, Be­vis be­gan gar­den­ing. “He just started land­scap­ing his back­yard. The gar­den grew and grew, as did the house,” says Dan de Silva, son of Dooland de Silva, Be­vis’s for­mer as­sis­tant and gar­den man­ager, and now owner of Brief. “He says in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that the gar­den and the house grew un­til he ran out of money!”

Dooland be­gan work­ing for Be­vis in the 1960s. His fa­ther was friends with Be­vis and asked him for a rec­om­men­da­tion let­ter for Dooland to join the army. “Mr Bawa asked my fa­ther to come to Brief and be his sec­re­tary and man­age the gar­den for me in­stead of join­ing the army.” Dooland de­clined but af­ter a short stint in the army he left. “One day Be­vis saw my fa­ther roam­ing around town with a bunch of boys. Be­vis said, ‘Come and work for me’. Since that day my fa­ther did not sleep a sin­gle night more at his par­ents’ house. He just moved in to Brief.”

Dooland was sent to Eng­land to study land­scape de­sign, re­turn­ing to Brief to man­age the gar­den with Be­vis, as well as work­ing with Ge­of­frey Bawa on projects like the Kan­dalama ho­tel. When Be­vis died in 1992 he left Brief to Dooland.

Grow­ing up at Brief was “heaven” for Dan de Silva. “When my par­ents were up­set with me I’d go and com­plain to Be­vis. Ev­ery day af­ter school I’d go and sit with him and talk.” The gar­den has had a pow­er­ful im­pact on Dan’s ca­reer as an ar­chi­tect and land­scape de­signer. “Brief plays an im­por­tant role in my work as a land­scape de­signer. It’s helped me un­der­stand what I can do when I walk into a new project be­cause I’ve had the op­por­tu­nity to have grown up in such a beau­ti­ful place.”

Since Be­vis’s pass­ing, the de Sil­vas have care­fully tended to Brief. They’ve “ex­panded it here and there”, but have kept the ex­ist­ing gar­den as is. The prop­erty, with its nu­mer­ous ex­pan­sive and in­ti­mate spa­ces, lush plant­ing, sculp­tures (many made by Be­vis) and art by Rus­sell Drys­dale, Don­ald Friend and oth­ers, is a world unto it­self. It’s a mag­i­cal, green place carved out of the jun­gle. Like all great gar­dens, it speaks as much of the land it sits upon as the hand that guided its cre­ation. In this case, a some­what ec­cen­tric six-foot-seven, Rolls-royce-driv­ing racon­teur with a air for de­sign and a deep love of gar­dens.

Brief is open for vis­i­tors ev­ery day from 8am to 5pm. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit brief­gar­

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