Interview: Dawn from Farmgirlsk
Last winter when I signed up for Floret Flower’s Online course for flower farmers and started looking for likeminded people on Instagram I fell in love with Dawn’s light and colourfilled images. So when I made up my list of creative and inspiring flower, garden, and nature loving people I would love to interview for the blog here (which also included Vera), Dawn was naturally at the top of that list. I hope you will enjoy her words and go fill your eyes and heart with her beautiful flowers over on Instagram.
Here we go…
Please tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you do? How did you get started? Where are you located etc?
My name is Dawn Cosgrove and I am the flower farmer behind Whistling Prairie Flowers in Saskatchewan, Canada. I am the wife of 8 years to a Saskatchewan grain farmer and a mom to our two little boys who will forever have my heart & soul.
So many people ask me how I got started and I have to say, I grew up in the garden. Whether it was weeding and pulling radishes in my grandmother’s or helping my mom & dad in the garden of my childhood home, if there was a patch of dirt to be found, one could always guarantee they would also find me.
I have always loved growing flowers & vegetables so when I married my (now) husband and moved to his farm, there was no question whether or not I'd plant one of my very own! It started innocently enough, in 2012 I found myself tilling up some dirt and planting a wide variety of vegetables as well as cosmos, zinnias, sweet peas, sunflowers and my first ever dahlias. And then over the years my love for growing flowers, combined with finding Floret Flower Farm on Instagram changed everything for me.
I knew I wanted to start a flower farm of my own but I wasn't sure how to go about it. We live in a very isolated, rural part of Saskatchewan and I didn't think there would be an interest in locally grown flowers. Then, in the winter of 2017, while my newborn son was in the hospital, my husband & I spent those long, quiet hours daydreaming and I expressed my desire to grow more flowers than ever before and get my flowers out there.
That Spring, I planted over 600 dahlias (along with all of the sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias and sweet peas my garden could handle) and was asked to join the local farmers market—my first booth sold out within minutes and I was absolutely floored! From there it kind of snowballed and brought me to where I am today: 5,300 dahlias, 5 flower fields and a desire to bring beautiful, locally grown, sustainable flowers to my little corner of the world.
Together we are raising a farm and family on the Canadian Prairies and I am so excited to share a bit more about myself with you here!
Do you grow organic? why/why not?
We are not certified organic at the moment but we do our best to grow our flowers as naturally & sustainable as possible.
What challenges do you face in your particular climate/landscape/soil? Have you found a solution/how do you deal with that?
Our landscape is known for being some of the driest, rockiest land in all of the Canadian prairies. After we were married in 2011, our farm experienced some of the best years it had seen until last year when a drought came upon us. Rain wasn’t seen for months and the water we rely on for our flowers was close to drying up. Thankfully we received enough snow last year to fill our reserves back up but once again, we are in a drought and water has quickly gone back down again.
At the moment, we’re still researching ways to manage this but I am hoping to implement drip irrigation into our fields next year which will help cut down on the amount of water that gets wasted through our overhead sprinklers and hopefully keep our reserves up enough to last us a proper season of growing.
What can make you angry/light a fire under you?
Not doing my best at something can really upset me. I have a lot of pride and I don’t want to do something without excelling at it. I am my own worst critic by far & usually very hard on myself but it’s only because I want to do my best in whatever it is that I am doing.
What has been your biggest "failure"/learning experience in the garden?
Every year provides learning experiences that I take with me going into any new season, It’s why I love growing things and working outside, the learning never ends! The biggest learning experience I am taking away from this particular year is that bigger isn’t always better. Excited to grow more flowers than ever before, I expanded my field production from 2 fields to 5 this Spring and planted every single seed I could. Within a month or two the weeds hit their stride, I fell behind and well… the rest is a weedy, disappointing history. I learned how important it was to work smarter, not harder. To go smaller but plant more intensively. And to be honest, I’m really so excited for next year now that that pressure is off of me just to try and keep up!
What is the most beautiful/inspiring garden you have ever seen/visited/most impacted the garden you have today?
I’m most inspired by cottage gardens. The timeless favourites they are almost always filled with - cosmos, foxgloves, hollyhocks, Poppies… they’re so simple yet beautiful and wild. I have gotten away from that style these last 2 years and it’s felt wrong to me ever since. Next year I will be going back to designing a space that truly feels like me again and I can hardly wait!
What's your favourite task in the garden/field?
My favourite job will always be harvesting the beautiful stems. Seeing all that hard work come into fruition is what it’s all about for every grower out there, it’s why we do what we do and why we love it all so much. To test ourselves, our soil, our climate and see what we can produce from a tiny seed.
What's your favourite season of the year and why?
I love each and every season that comes my way, which is why I am grateful to live in a country that allows me to experience each one so vividly! If I had to choose though I would have to say Autumn is my favourite. Things slow down enough to actually enjoy yourself and once the frost has come, your mind gets foggy of any recent setbacks or gardening heartaches and you allow yourself to get excited for the next growing year. It’s a time for enjoying the farm rather than the busy pace that Spring/Summer almost always provides.
What's your least favourite task in the garden/field?
Fall cleanup comes immediately to mind. Once you’re in it, it’s enjoyable as the weather is cool and the bugs of Summer have gone but having that huge to do list weigh in on you is awful. Cutting back all of the foliage, rolling up the irrigation and landscape fabric, digging up dahlias, amending the soil then planting all of the tulips/daffodils/alliums and peonies. You name it and it all needs to get done before the snow falls.
Who inspires you?
People who are passionate about what they do inspire me. Artists, farmers, florists, writers, photographers, bakers..if they LOVE what they do, it shows! And I find that very inspiring and motivating in my own work. Makes me want to push that much harder and really find my own way
When do you feel most at peace or most like yourself?
I feel most like myself when I am right here on our farm, surrounded by my boys and our animals. It’s so peaceful out here in the country… this place calms me and inspires me at the same time. Honestly, there isn’t a more beautiful place on earth than home sweet home for me.
What's your favourite flower?
Oh gosh that’s a hard one, I don’t know that I could pick a favourite flower! In the Springtime it’s peonies, ranunculus and lilacs. In the Summer it’s most definitely Sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos or rudbeckia but in the Fall? Well… dahlias have my heart
Do you take all the photos on your feed yourself?
Unless I am sharing a photo from a shoot done here at the farm (my friend Rosie of Simply Rosie Photography has shot some amazing photos that I love to share!) then yes, the majority of the photography you see was taken by myself using my DSLR or IPhone.
What do you find of challenges and/or advantages of running your business and raising children at the same time? What works really well for you in balancing work and motherhood?
Time management has been a huge challenge for me in developing my flower farm while also mothering 2 little boys who are very dependent on me and deserve nothing but the best. My family is my number one priority and sometimes that can mean I fail in reaching my business goals. At the same time, my boys are only little for so long and I want to enjoy this stage as much as possible!
The biggest advantage of course is that I am home with my family, even when I am working. My kids can be out in the flower fields with me playing with their toys or delivering flowers right alongside me and I don’t ever want to take that for granted.
I can’t say I have it figured out just yet but I know I couldn’t do this without the help of my family. My husband takes the boys with him as much as he can whether he’s working in the field or down at the shop. My mom drives down 2.5 hours one way just to help watch them whenever I need her and of course my inlaws have given me tremendous support throughout these last few years and I know it’s because of all of them that any of this is even possible.
What do you dream of for the future?
I dream of a beautiful little farm stand stocked with all of my freshly harvested flowers, and we are currently building just that (which will open in 2020 and you can follow on @whistlingprarieflowers on Instagram). I dream about hosting an intimate get together here on our farm with other like minded growers who want to wander our fields, harvesting flowers to create something beautiful before sitting down to a candlelit farm to table dinner, I dream about finally writing that book I have always wanted to create. And I guess I just dream about continually growing & expanding Whistling Prairie Flowers into something that not even I can really see yet!