BEDFORD, Pa. — Bonnie Kunkle and her husband, Ed, a supervisor with the Department of Defense, had one week to find a house in rural Bedford County, Pa.
They had been living in Germany when Ed was transferred to work with ATK in Cumberland, Md. Bonnie wanted some land to fulfill her lifelong dream of raising flowers and herbs. They found the right spot just north of Cumberland, across the state border, in Bedford Valley.
With 15 acres, Bonnie began doing what she had always wanted to do, raise flowers. She took a job with FEMA for 18 months and when that ran out, she was ready to go to work on her flower farm. That was 2011 and her business selling fresh-cut herbs and flowers is now known at the farmers market in Bedford, Pa., as Sweet Annie’s Garden. She is working to add eggs and caponized chickens to her business as well.
She and Ed added a small greenhouse to the side of their split-level home furnished with treasures from Germany. She received a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) grant for a high tunnel, which is still in the construction stages but will help next year with late frosts.
The spring of 2013 was difficult for many farmers in Bedford County and Sweet Annie’s Garden was no exception.
“It killed off a number of early plants,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie Kunkle had an early start learning about gardening having grown up on a farm in Westmoreland County, Pa. Then, while living in Europe, she became familiar with many types of flowers. Her love of growing herbs developed when she and her husband were living in Westmoreland County and Bonnie volunteered at Westmoreland Park, growing and explaining herbs to visitors to the park. She is also trained as a Penn State Extension master gardener.
In Bedford, by late summer, Kunkle’s acre of flowers provides beautiful color to the valley.
“I grow flowers that can be turned into bouquets and will hopefully last for some time. Lisianthus, a flower that looks somewhat like a rose, will last in a vase of water for two weeks. I have a big variety of dahlias, 500 sweet pea plants, snap dragons, broom corn and lots of zinnias. Zinnias make beautiful arrangements,” Kunkle said.
She also has thousands of sunflowers and her chickens help to replant the seeds.
“Chickens, especially capons, are something I just started with a year ago,” Bonnie said. “I expect to have both organic chickens and eggs by fall.”
In addition to flowers, Bonnie has dozens of herbs.
“Sweet Annie is the first one I think of,” Bonnie laughs. “I like it so much I named my business after it.”
She also raises mints, chives, thyme, feverfew, yarrow, wormwood, oregano, savory, lemon verbena, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, tansy, cilantro, tarragon, dill, lemon grass, chamomile, marjoram, parsley, anise and lovage. Her list continues with spilanthes, the “toothache plant,” and horehound, beneficial for throat ailments.
Kunkle grows geraniums in a variety of scents such as lemon and orange, and likes to tuck both these and the herbs into her flower arrangements.
All of her plants, both herbal and flowering, are grown from heirloom seed without chemicals. Bothersome insects are eaten by her chickens. Kunkle has also added a few bee hives to her operation.
“Bees love the herbal flowers,” she said.
She has always used herbs in cooking and is expanding her knowledge of medicinal herbs. Her son is a homeopathic physician in Seattle, Wash.
“We enjoy exchanging our knowledge with each other,” she said.
Work at Sweet Annie’s Garden begins in February with the planting of seeds, and Kunkle expects her high tunnel will be of huge benefit in getting an early start next year.
By the time the farmers market opens in late May, Kunkle has potted plants and a few early spring flower bouquets for sale. Her inventory grows as the summer progresses. Customers can also order capons at her stand.
Kunkle sells at additional markets, including the Bird’s Nest Café, a gourmet restaurant in Bedford, that uses a lot of herbs in its cooking. Her business also provides eggs, chickens and honey to a local cooperative.
After having lived in many parts of the country and the world, Bonnie said she is ready to settle down with Sweet Annie’s Garden in Bedford Valley.