If you were born without a green thumb, you may believe Mel Niepagen is a godsend.

For the past 3 years Niepagen has actually been offering to plant container gardens for customers at Wendell Niepagen Greenhouses & Gardens. He creates arrangements for just the expense of the plants. He is the 3rd generation of Niepagens to operate in the household gardening company.

“My life is the greenhouse,” he stated.


The 83-year-old Niepagen matured in the family business begun by his grandpa, Charles Niepagen.

“It’s the only thing I’ve ever known,” he stated.

He said he remembers being in business at the age of 5 or 6. His moms and dads, Walter and Frieda, expected he and his siblings, Wendell, Norman, Joyce and Jeanette to all work in the business.

“Every night when we came home from school, we’d need to transplant,” said Mel. He said he could fill 100 flats of transplants in a day.

His partner, Shirley, also worked transplanting seedlings. All Mel and Shirley’s children– Cathy, Vickie, Don, Eric and Steve– worked in the family s greenhouses when they were maturing.

Today he likes being in the greenhouses and volunteers daily at Wendell Niepagen Greenhouses & Gardens, owned by Mel’s nephew Lee and Lee’s better half, Anne Niepagen.

“They are kind enough to let me come to play in this little room,” he stated with a smile as he stood amidst an array of vibrant plans. He works in greenhouse No. 10, arranging container gardens with a range of lawns, geraniums, petunias and succulents for clients from about 8 a.m. up until about 3 p.m.– “when my feet start hurting.”

Niepagen states he has nothing else to do this time of year and that is why he volunteers to plant container gardens. His other passion is baseball and he states he can’t get enough of it. He bow hunts and still climbs up trees to do it.

“If it wasn’t for fishing and hunting, I don’t know exactly what I’d do.”

“I utilized to have a huge garden, however my cousin, Frank Niepagen, has a heck of a garden, he said. I can discuss there if I require something.”

His longest break from greenhouse work can be found in 1951, when he got in the Navy.

27s “I got a vacation for four years,” he stated. “I’ve seen the 7 seas, and been around the globe twice. It was a good 4 years I had.” In the Navy, Mel was a medical facility corpsman stationed on 2 carriers off the coast of Japan that flew objectives into Korea. When he went back to Bloomington in 1954, he worked at General Electric by day and the greenhouse every night and on weekends.

“I do not feel any different now than I did 10 years ago, he stated. I appreciate the work.”

He has actually planted a number of containers this gardening season, waiting for their brand-new owners to choose them up from greenhouse No. 10.

“I’m their baby sitter right now,” he said, tending to them with water and fertilizer.

That connection to plants is just force of habit to him.

“It’s not as much about the work as it is about making Mel delighted doing the work.” stated seasonal supervisor Kelly Rawlings. “If Mel stopped planting he would stop moving.

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