The Bawa brothers, Geoffrey and Bevis, are among Sri Lanka’s best known non-political figures alongside such people as the writer Michael Oondatje. Geoffrey, the younger brother, eventually became an architect whose works range from large hotels such as the Kandalama and great public buildings including the Sri Lankan Parliament building through to intimate domestic houses. Bevis remained in the family tradition of law and was every bit as successful though less publicly known. Although they were very different temperamentally and physically and had little to do with one another through their long lives they shared an interest in gardens and each created one near to Bentota, on the coast south of Colombo.
The gardens are, however, as different as the two brothers. Geoffrey’s garden, Lunuganga (meaning “salt river”) is almost a park, with sweeping vistas, semi-wild areas and lots of water. Brief – Bevis’s garden, named apparently because it was built on the proceeds of a particularly lucrative legal case – is both more intimate, and more fun.
We’d been to Lunuganga a few years ago but not to Brief, an oversight we corrected in November. It’s quite a trek to get there, down a series of back lanes behind Darga Town which is on the link road between Bentota and the Southern Expressway. And for the Rs2,000/- entry price (no concessions to residents but at least they let our driver in free) they might have produced a foldout map and maybe labelled the occasional tree or plant, but that’s the only criticism we have.
Unlike Lunuganga, where visitors can only access the entrance hall of the house, almost all the public rooms at Brief are open to visitors and contain a wealth of historical information and photographs about Bevis’s colourful life as well as more artworks, many of them by the Australian artist Donald Friend, a close associate of the Bawas. The guide who showed us around the house (but not the gardens) was exemplary and patiently answered our questions in a relaxed way.
If you’d like to learn more about Brief and Lunuganga we can recommend the informative and lavishly illustrated Bawa: The Sri Lanka gardens by David Robson and Dominic Sansoni, published by Thames and Hudson.