May 5, 2023

World of whimsy

A blossoming romance allowed this fourth-generation farm to bloom into a garden filled with colour and life.

Walking onto the grounds of Frosty Flats is like wandering into a fairy tale. Paths lined by fallen logs that twist and turn between garden beds, lively blooms of vibrant colours and sweet scents sprawl along the ground.

Roses, geraniums, irises and agapanthuses burst from their beds with blossoms of brilliant pinks, yellows, reds and purples.

Hidden among the foliage, blue-tongued lizards make their homes while frogs croak in the smattering of small ponds brimming with goldfish.

Monarch butterflies flutter nearby, while bees bring the garden to life with the buzz of their beating wings.

The garden encompasses all sides of the verandah, making you feel as if you are walking atop the plants.
Alex sometimes finds that clambering in and out of the thickly planted garden beds to deadhead flowers is the most difficult part of the job.

When Alex Kowald married her husband Neil in 1988, the couple moved into the Birdwood property owned by Neil’s family since the early 1800s, running it as a dairy and cattle farm.

The couple met as children when Alex and her family moved into the property where they bred Arabian horses across the road from Neil’s family’s farm.

“Neil’s mother came to introduce herself and told us she lived across the road,” Alex says. “In those days, you could buy milk directly from the dairy farm. My sister and I would go over there to get jugs of fresh milk and that is how I met Neil.”

After Alex and Neil married they moved into the property that would one day be known as Frosty Flats. At the time, the garden had an established vegetable patch that had been cultivated for generations, which meant the soil was rich and fertile.

Entering Frosty Flats is like being whisked away into a fairy tale land.
Alex and her husband, Neil spend most mornings enjoying a coffee at their quaint table beneath the verandah.

“The patch had cow manure put in it year after year for the veggies, so I was very lucky to have this beautiful, rich soil to start my garden with,” Alex says.

Alex began recrafting the garden in 1989, planting conifers, gums, Chinese elms and callistemon throughout the then empty fields.

As the years went by, the trees grew and became focal points in the yard, under which Alex began planting bushes, shrubs and flowers. Some trees were removed in 2010 and replaced with prunus to lessen the fire hazard and create further room for planting.

These garden patches continued to grow and develop under Alex’s loving care, and they became so thick that she crafted narrow paths through the garden that only she and her wheelbarrow could meander through.

A rusted windmill peers out from the middle of a garden bed.
Canna lilies fill the garden with vibrance.

“It is planted thickly and very densely; I don’t like lots of clear space,” Alex says. “It’s all just plants that I love. Lots of colour for as long as possible.”

The garden has taken on an informal cottage style, with Alex and Neil adding to its rustic charm by placing old ladders, fences and other farm equipment among the flowers. Arbours made from farm timbers are covered with climbing roses, while rusted machinery nestles in the garden beds – slowly being reclaimed by nature.

There are also tributes to Alex’s favourite animal scattered throughout.

“I love bunnies and hares, so there are a lot of ornaments dotted around the garden and alongside terracotta pots,” Alex says.

The tiny blooms of alstromerias dot the garden with bursts of colour.
The many roses blooming in the garden are Alex’s pride and joy.

In 2010, Alex gave up her career with horses to focus purely on her passion for gardening.

“I gave up all my riding and competing around 2009 or 2010 because my gardening took over and that was what I wanted to do,” Alex says.

It was around this time, she expanded the garden across the driveway, reclaiming what had previously been paddocks for livestock.

“Neil jokingly said I could plant a couple of trees in the paddock to shade the calves, which turned out to be a big mistake,” Alex says. “I started planning immediately and a few months later the paddocks were fenced off and I began planting in 2011.”

A butterfly collects nectar from a plant that shares its name.
Alex describes her garden as “informal cottage style”.

A fig and quince tree were planted in this garden, surrounded by prunus, crab apples, sedums, irises, daffodils and groundcover roses.

An old seeder used by Neil’s forebears stands proudly at the centre of the paddock, its rusted colours complemented by the colourful blooms that surround it.

“When I want to redo or start a new area, I like to just sit there and let ideas go through my mind,” Alex says. “I don’t rush into anything. It has to feel right with me what I am going to plant there, how I am going to place them and what colours there will be. It is all a work in progress.”

When 2015 came around, another paddock succumbed to Alex’s green thumb as she planted thousands of bulbs in a field of more than 1000 square metres.

Garden beds filled to the brim with colour bask in the sunshine.
Families of blue-tongued lizards live nestled in the agapanthuses.

Years later and in late winter and early spring, the bulbs bloom into life, creating a stunning sea of colour spreading as far as the eye can see.

Alex’s garden has become a full-time job and she sometimes spends up to six days a week working from dawn until dusk to keep everything beautiful and healthy. Hours are spent deadheading the roses, buddleias and penstemons to encourage repeat flowering across the season. Plants are divided and replanted throughout the garden, filling the beds with more and more blooms each year.

With her passion and skill, Alex has also taken up work in other people’s gardens around the area, performing maintenance and planting.

“I have one garden that I spend a full day at each week doing maintenance,” Alex says. “There are a couple of other gardens that I will work on every couple of months or so as they need it.”

Ornaments and terracotta pots are dotted around the garden as hidden surprises.
Alex wants to have as much colour as possible all year round and the garden beds now consist of more than 800 individual flowering plants.

When Alex hosted her first Open Gardens event in 2011, she knew her garden needed a name and Frosty Flats was born; the name reflecting their winter chill.

“When we were still a dairy (the farm is now just cattle) the milk tank driver would come to pick up the milk and he would have his thermometer ready; he told us that we were in the coldest spot in his travels along the Hills,” Alex says.

The couple has embraced this cold and the frosts that leave a glistening sheen on their blooms throughout the winter months – proud that their garden is as hardy as it is beautiful.


This article first appeared in the Autumn 2023 issue of SALIFE Gardens & Outdoor Living magazine.

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