Rhodes Jeppesen wishes his voice was in full bloom like the flowers he grows in his greenhouses.

Jeppesen, 87, longs to sing again like his heroes Enrico Caruso and Placido Domingo. A serious illness that nearly took his life wilted his tenor voice."I was devastated when I got that head infection," said the lifetime Orem resident. "I haven't sung in public for at least 10 years." Jeppesen said he's performed in "nearly every building in the county."

When he did sing, Jeppesen said, he could hit the high notes. "I went up high just because I could do it." After listening to a tape recording of Jeppesen made in 1946, one would agree.

Music and art are Jeppesen's first loves. He recently finished a painting despite being blind in one eye and partially blind in the other. But he said painting is becoming more difficult.

That leaves him more time to tend to his geraniums, petunias, tomato starts and myriad other plants, at Jeppesen's Bedding Plants, a business he has operated for some 50 years. Jeppesen was born on the property where his nursery sits at 1580 S. Sandhill Road.

"My dad truck gardened when I was a kid," Jeppesen said. That is, he grew vegetables for sale in the ma-and-pa grocery store the Jeppesens ran in the early 1900s.

Some things from those early days haven't changed. Jeppesen still plants most of his seeds in wooden flats. Most commercial growers now use plastic trays.

A peat moss supplier once asked Jeppesen why he still

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uses the wooden trays. "I told him `I thought Jeeps were going to go out of style, but Jeeps have been on the market longer than you are old,' " Jeppesen said.

Jeppesen's art background has allowed him to develop an eye for flower arranging. "If you make your flowers fit into the rules of art, you've got it made," he said. Yard flowers should be matched to each other using a color wheel, he said. And, Jeppesen said, they should also blend with the color of the house and nearby houses.

"This is an interesting business. Like anything else, you have to dedicate your life to it. When the plants need water, you get there and give it to them," he said.

While Jeppesen doesn't take as active a role in the business as he once did, he "spot waters, sees what's going on and keeps things organized."

Much has changed in Jeppesen's neighborhood over the years. Subdivisions have popped up all around. Big stores that sell everything Jeppesen does have moved in nearby. Traffic has increased on Sandhill Road.

There was a time when Jeppesen knew all his customers. But "the ones my age are all dead and gone," he said.

Even so, Jeppesen's song goes on.

The ultimate thrill in singing is, as he puts it, to "bring the house down."

"When the audience knows that no one else can do it better, that's the payoff," Jeppesen said.

"That's the payoff here," he said, looking over his flowers.