Sri Lanka’s Garden Culture – A Feast for the Senses

Palm trees waving in a gentle breeze, exotic perfumes wafting from colourful blooms, green grass underfoot and the sound of birds filling the air…

You could only be in a verdant tropical garden, an escape from the concrete jungles many of us find ourselves living in.

The Universal Appeal of the Tropics

The concept of the tropical garden seems to have captured people’s imagination ever since Adam and Eve were banished from the Biblical Garden of Eden. After all, who wouldn’t want to experience a fantastical, flourishing and fertile paradise filled with lush vegetation and brightly coloured flowers? The early explorers of the Western world brought back stories, paintings and botanical specimens from far away tropics, further fueling the desire and appeal for the bounty and beauty of exotic lands.

The Gardens of Ancient Sri Lanka

According to the history books, gardens and water features have been an integral part of Sri Lankan culture from as early as the 3rd century BC. Royal and monastic gardens are referred to in the Buddhist chronicles of the island, and notable Sri Lankan archaeologist Prof. Senake Bandaranayake has stated that Sri Lanka is in all probability the only South Asian country that still has substantial archaeological remains of formally laid out gardens. Bandaranayake has also stated that the combination of architecture and garden space – planting trees, building pathways, water features and open areas are inherent aspects of the Sri Lankan architectural tradition.

Sigiriya, the country’s most popular historical site, provides wonderful insights into the planning and architecture of gardens in ancient Sri Lanka. The gardens at Sigiriya are an expression of the various traditions of Sri Lankan garden art. They consist of three distinct, yet interlinked sections – water gardens, boulder gardens and terrace gardens. Each section was designed to provide a dedicated function in addition to contributing to the aesthetic value of the place and also providing pleasure for the royals who lived there.  Even today, so many centuries later, the gardens of Sigiriya never fail to amaze and cause a sense of wonder and awe.

Sri Lanka’s Modern Gardens

More recent examples of spectacular Sri Lankan gardens are probably those created by the Bawa brothers. Located in the South of the island, near the coastal town of Bentota, Geoffrey Bawa’s Lunuganga Estate and Bevis Bawa’s Brief Garden live on in vernal splendour, long after the earthly departure of their creators.

Although Geoffrey Bawa is renowned for his wonderful architectural structures, Lunuganga is considered by some to be his greatest legacy. The estate is sited on a former rubber plantation and its key feature is a large lake at the bottom of a hill. Terraces, wide lawns, water gardens, rice paddy fields and plenty of tropical plants and trees come together to create a truly special experience for anyone who visits Bawa’s masterpiece.

Bevis Bawa’s Brief Garden is considered to be a reflection of his personality and approach to life. It is a stark contrast to Lunuganga, in that it is wilder and more flamboyant in design. Bevis’ garden too is sited on a rubber plantation, but it was created much before Geoffrey began work on Lunuganga. Bevis’ design takes you along winding paths and through dense tropical foliage. You will suddenly happen upon a staircase, pond, patio or an eccentric sculpture.

The Bawa brothers succeeded in creating a spectacular sensory experience in a tranquil and natural setting with their two individualistic gardens, demonstrating the value in creating well thought out, yet natural outdoor spaces for pleasure.

Designing Gardens for Sensorial Pleasure

A select number of Sri Lankan hotels and villas have recognized the benefit of incorporating this kind of thinking into their property designs. One of the most stunning examples lies but a few kilometers away from Brief Garden.

The Rock Villa by Taru Villas is an enchanting 170-year-old walauwa (manor house), situated on a beautiful stretch of coastline. The 2.5 acre beachfront property has a vast and splendidly laid out tropical garden that has been designed to evoke a sense of tranquility and peace for guests.  Just as its villa interiors are carefully designed to provide every luxury and comfort, while affording a feast for the senses, the Rock Villa’s sprawling gardens are highly detailed and beautifully maintained so that guests can find inspiration as they immerse themselves in nature.

Smell the sweet fragrance of Frangipani flowers mixed with the salty ocean breeze as you stroll around the villa’s magnificent garden. Sit under the shade of a palm tree as you relax with a good book in hand, or explore the many flowers and plants that are endemic to Sri Lanka.

Beautiful tropical gardens, such as those found at all Taru Villas properties, also play an important role in seamlessly linking indoor and outdoor spaces at resort properties. The use of flowers from these stunning gardens in floral arrangements placed throughout the interiors is part of the fundamental principles of Taru Villas’ unique design concept.

The next time you visit Sri Lanka, remember to choose an accommodation partner that creates beautiful and well thought out outdoor spaces, so that you can enjoy a holistic sensorial experience on your Sri Lankan adventure.