Iowa’s Amish Country

Head down Highway 1 for antiques, flowers, and brown eggs

On the Road

For many nonnatives, driving through Iowa can be an ordeal of dodging heavy truck, traffic on Interstate 80. For those in the know, however, driving through Iowa is a joy, full of picturesque towns and gardens. Try turning off the beaten path onto Highway 1, just south of Iowa City, to experience an entirely different side of the state.

The first things you’ll notice about Highway 1 are the unusually wide shoulders, which were built to accommodate die horse-and-carriage traffic of the largest Amish community west of the Mississippi. As you head down the road towards Kalona, you’ll see other signs of the thriving community, such as the absence of electrical lines, pastures filled with blond-maned Belgian work horses, heavily laden clotheslines, and hand-painted signs advertising brown eggs, red beets, and other seasonal produce.

You’ll also notice the farmhouse shops of Sisters‘ Gardens and Bloomers. Sisters’ Gardens houses vintage treasures such as painted concrete urns, garden gates, and architectural salvage pieces. Next door, Bloomers, a little cottage nestled in the trees, offers fun and funky items for indoors and out, from candelabras to planters to soap. My favorite find? A galvanized chick feeder to turn into a planter filled with hens and chicks. Who could resist such a great visual play on words?

After you’ve satisfied your need for antiques, satisfy your hunger for artisanal snacks at the Kalona Cheese Factory, where you can watch cheese curds being made. Buy a bagfull, then head next door to the Stringtown Grocery, an Amish general store. The horse-drawn carriages in the parking lot and the gently hissing gaslights inside are a welcome change from the crowded parking lots and fluorescent lights of chain stores. Stringtown carries bulk dry goods, homemade noodles, pies, jams, and jellies, and seasonal produce, grown organically in Amish gardens.

Once you’ve stocked up on homemade delicacies, head down the road to Kalona proper. Drop in at the Pink Begonia, where you can find treasures like a handmade willow trellis to start your sweet peas on. To get other ideas for your spring plantings, tour the traditional herb and rose garden at the Kalona Historic Village.

Of course, no road trip would be complete without visiting at least one nursery. Head to the Maple Avenue Greenhouse to stock up on geraniums, impatiens, petunias, and other annuals. Reha Greenhouse, located just west of Kalona in Wellman, also offers a wide variety of plants. You may even be able to find some of the herbs you admired in the Historic Village garden.

For More Info

Kalona Historical Society, Box 292, 715 D Ave, Kalona IA 52247; 319-656-2519; ww.kalonaiowa.org

Make time for one last stop before you head home. Anna’s Cutting Garden in Oxford is well worth the trip, offering a chance to cut your own bouquet from her garden, which features herbs, perennials, and annuals. You can also buy whole, freshly dug plants. Call ahead for a lunch reservation to dine on pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven. It’s the perfect treat after a long afternoon of plant shopping.–Karen Weir-Jimerson cultivates three acres of gardens in central Iowa.

If You Go On the Road

Sisters’ Gardens and Bloomers 4895 Hwy 1 SW Kalona, IA 52247 319-683-2046-Sisters Gardens 319-683-3020-Bloomers

Nearby Nibbles: No one can resist the simple pleasure of cheese curds so fresh they squeak as you eat them. Indulge yourself and buy a bag at Twin County Dairy-Kalona Cheese Factory, located at 2206 540th Street SW in Kalona. Call ahead (319-656-2776) to see what type of cheese they’ll be making when you visit. While you’re in the neighborhood, stock up on homemade pies and jams at the Stringtown Grocery, located next door to the Cheese Factory. Since it is an Amish-run store, there is no phone.

Pink Begonia

413 B. Avenue Kalona, IA 52247 319-656-4550

Kalona Historic Village Downtown Kalona, IA 52247 Open Monday-Saturday

Maple Avenue Greenhouse 1069 Maple Avenue Kalona, IA 52247 No phone

Nearby Nibbles: Tuscan Moon Grill (203 5th Street) offers rustic, country Italian food and spirits. It is the perfect place to relax after a long morning shopping and sightseeing. If you’re in the mood for a lighter lunch or a sweet dessert, stop by the Kalona Bakery (800-213-4531), located right next door at 209 5th Street.

Reha Greenhouses 1160 Highway 22 Wellman, IA 319-646-2408

Anna’s Cutting Garden 4 miles south of 1 -80-Exit 230 1259 Rohret Road Oxford, IA 52322 319-828-4257

Nearby Nibbles: Anna’s Cutting Garden offers delectable wood-fired pizza as well as delightful flowers. What could be a better end to a perfect road trip?

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