Born under glass: Greenhouse is home for Niepagen

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.

Backyard Greenhouses Extend the Garden Season

Every year my Dad (Ron Simmons) starts numerous annual plants for our household in his backyard greenhouse. I get most of my blooming annuals, vegetables, and herbs from daddy’s greenhouse. His plants are remarkably healthy and grow much better than other plants in my gardens.

27s4I see more and more pastime greenhouses and hoop-houses turning up in property owner’s backyards. What’s the distinction? They are both very comparable. They both extend the growing season in spring and fall, sometimes allowing edibles to grow all year. Both keep in the heat with a covering, typically plastic. Greenhouses normally grow plants on benches or tables, while hoop-houses grow plants in the ground. Greenhouses usually have an extra heat source, while hoop-houses trap the sun s heat inside to warm plants in the ground.

Greenhouse kits are probably the easiest method to get started, or like my father, you can design and build your own. Papas greenhouse started with recycle glass windows, but due to hail storm damage he later on changed those with greenhouse polycarbonate panels.

A lot of hobby elite greenhouses grow plants in soil, but hydroponics and aquaponics are also options. Hydroponic systems grow plants in nutrient enriched water, rather of in soil.27e

On a recent journey to Monterey California I checked out a small community garden on the school of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies where my child Derek is going to grad school. The garden had a little aquaponics system in the back where fish are raised in tanks that supply nutrition abundant water to hydroponically grown plants. When I was there in April they were growing lettuce, Swiss chard, and onions.

Gardening in backyard greenhouses is the topic of an upcoming University of Illinois Extension Four Seasons Garden webinar series. Sign up with Extension Horticulture Educator Kim Ellson as she discusses how, no matter their shape or size, greenhouses enable us to obtain a running start on our favorite plants and be outside whilst the weather is bleak. Kim will discuss ways to get the most out of your greenhouse this season.