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Gardening the Amana Way

Lawrence L. Rettig

Publication Year: 2013

Gardening in Iowa’s Amana Colonies is the culmination of techniques that stretch back several centuries to central Europe, when adherents to a new faith called the Community of True Inspiration formed their own self-reliant communities. As a child of parents who were part of the communal life of the Amana Society, Larry Rettig pays homage to the Amana gardening tradition and extends it into the twenty-first century.

Each of the seven villages in Amana relied on the food prepared in its communal kitchens, and each kitchen depended on its communal garden for most of the dishes served (the kitchens in Rettig’s hometown produced more than four hundred gallons of sauerkraut in 1900). Rettig begins by describing the evolution of communal gardening in old Amana, focusing especially on planting, harvesting, and storing vegetables from asparagus to egg lettuce to turnips. With the passing of the old order in 1932, the number of the society’s large vegetable gardens and orchards dwindled, but Larry Rettig and his wife, Wilma, still grow some of the colonies’ heirloom varieties in their fourth-generation South Amana vegetable garden. In 1980 they founded a seed bank to preserve them for future generations.

Rettig’s chapters on modern vegetable and flower gardening in today’s Amana Colonies showcase his Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, now listed with the Smithsonian in its Archives of American Gardens. Old intermingles with new across his gardens: heirloom lettuce keeps company with the latest cucumber variety, a hundred-year-old rose arches over the newest daylilies and heucheras, and ancient grapevines intertwine with newly planted wisteria, all adding up to a rich array of colorful plantings.

Rettig extends his gardening advice into the kitchen and workroom. He shares family recipes for any number of traditional dishes, including radish salad, dumpling soup, Amana pickled ham, apple bread, eleven-minute meat loaf, and strawberry rhubarb pie. Moving into the workroom, he shows us how to make hammered botanical prints, Della Robbia centerpieces, holiday wreaths, a gnome home, and a waterless fountain. Touring his gardens, with their historic and unusual plants, will make gardeners everywhere want to reproduce the groupings and varieties that surround Larry and Wilma Rettig’s 1900 red brick house.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Gardening in the seven villages of Iowa’s Amana Colonies is a culmination of gardening techniques, and gardening in general, that stretch back several centuries to Central Europe. It was a natural outcome of the need to provide food for a growing number of adherents to a new faith called...

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Chapter 1. The Community of True Inspiration

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pp. 1-10

Google the word “Amana” and you’ll quickly discover that it’s associated with an amazing assortment of items. Falling under its rubric is an Islamic mutual fund, a collection of appliances, the name of a Hebrew mountain, a street in Honolulu, an academy in Georgia, a society, a corporation, a place in Iowa. It’s the latter three in this litany that relate to our exploration...

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Chapter 2. The Evolution of Communal Gardening in Amana

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pp. 11-16

To understand the origins of Amana gardening, we need to travel back in time to the early 1800s, when the Inspirationists were, of necessity, living a de facto communal life in Germany in the province of Hesse. While there’s no detailed evidence of how the Inspirationists gardened back then, we do find mention now and then of various...

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Chapter 3. Gardening in Old Amana

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pp. 17-42

If you have ever had the good fortune of raising your own vegetables, you know how wonderful they taste when they’re whisked out of the garden and onto the table in short order. Imagine the coordinated effort it would take to accomplish that act for an entire village, to say nothing of seven villages. The Amana settlers did just that, and they did it well...

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Chapter 4. Vegetable Gardening in Modern Amana

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pp. 43-52

Wilma and I live in a verdant valley dominated on either side of the beautiful Iowa River by heavily forested bluffs. The soil here is of the type considered to be the richest in the world, found elsewhere only in the Ukraine. We live within the confines of a 26,000-acre game preserve, where deer, ducks, geese, swans, bald eagles, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, the...

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Chapter 5. Flower Gardening in Modern Amana

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pp. 53-64

What modern Amana gardens may lack in fruit and vegetable production, they certainly make up for in blooming plants. Tourists visiting the Amanas often mention the beautiful flower gardens they find here...

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Chapter 6. Favorite Plants in Cottage-In-The-Meadow Gardens

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pp. 65-80

I’m often asked what my favorite plant is. Invariably, my mind goes blank. There are so many, and I like them all! But one thing I can do with ease is tell you what plants I’m currently using to create my vignettes. Like all gardens, ours are a work in progress, so my vignettes are always evolving. Here are some tried-and- true plants that I use quite often. The last three are...

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Chapter 7. Creativity In and Out of the Gardens

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pp. 81-106

I love the beauty that the world of plants offers us, so I don’t really mind the weeding, mulching, watering, and feeding they require to look their best. But I like to interact with our gardens in more creative ways, aside from plant placement and color schemes. In this chapter and the next, I’ll share with you ways in which Wilma and I do just that...

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Chapter 8. Gardening Indoors

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pp. 107-110

Eventually the gardening season must end. I always take my memories of the year’s gardens into the winter season with me. But something else carries me through until spring...


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pp. 124-147

Botanical Names of Plants in This Book

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pp. 111-114


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pp. 115-116


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pp. 117-122

Further Reading

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pp. 160-162

E-ISBN-13: 9781609382193
E-ISBN-10: 1609382196
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381905
Print-ISBN-10: 1609381904

Page Count: 162
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos, 44 color photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1st ed.

OCLC Number: 857493085
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Gardening the Amana Way


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