Hello, and welcome! My name is Shem Ruszczyk and I am the founder and author of the Pennsylvania Plant Guide. This site is a cumulation of my passion for learning, my appreciation for nature and my desire for a more congenial and congruent lifestyle.
Currently I am enrolled in the Professional Gardening progam at one of the most magnificant gardens in the United States, Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square, PA. The program is a two year submersive combination of academic learning and hands on experience.
The story of how I got to this point and my prior experience with horticulture, landscaping and the green way of life is below. Get to know me!
My full name is Przemysław Ruszczyk and I was born in Bielawa, Poland in 1984. I grew up in a small Polish town (Dzierżoniów), not too far from Kraków.
Perhaps my childhood adventures have somehow manifested into my love with the outdoors. Growing up during the ‘80s in Socialist Poland was quite an experience, one that has given me a unique perspective on life.
First, let us first settle a couple of issues. Polish roller coasters DO go forward, and it does NOT snow all the time. Also, we do not require more than three people to screw in a light bulb. Now that I got that off my chest, let me tell you how my affinity for landscaping and gardening began, and how it has spread to other facets of my life.
Although I did not know it nor could I comprehend it at the time, the effects of Socialism had destroyed job creation, friendly business competition and more importantly, the spirit of the people. Strict government regulations created complacency and a dependency on government programs.
As a result, families like mine lived in a one-bedroom project apartment building that you had to be buzzed in to enter. My sister and I would sleep on fold out futons in the living room, my parents slept on the fold out couch, and my grandparents had the one bedroom to themselves.
You might not think it, but this was heaven to a kid. The tight living space meant the adults wanted you out of the house playing, all the time. I took this opportunity to do whatever a curious and fearless young boy would do: climb trees, ride bicycles, play soccer and get into trouble (I have many scars to prove it).
I loved climbing the cherry trees on the side of the road with my friends and riding our bicycles to the community farm plots. The one my family owned had fruit trees and rows of various vegetables depending on the season. Each plot had its own little unique hut you could take shelter in during a storm or prepare meals in while gardening.
During warm summer nights, we would build a campfire, dig up fresh potatoes and bake them in the ground under the smoldering embers. To go along with the fire-baked potatoes, you guessed it; we cooked kiełbasa over the fire. The smell would waft through the farm community, marking the location of the campfire for the ones who could not make it before the sun set.
When we were not eating and harvesting food from our plot, my babća (grandma) or dziadek (grandpa) would walk with me to the central market a couple times per week to buy fresh meats, vegetables, baked goods, and dairy products. Like most Eastern European families leading a farm to table lifestyle, our refrigerator size reflected our eating habits.
In retrospect, I see that although we did not have much, we ate like kings! Daily farm to table meals were a luxury I did not appreciate until later on in my life. In addition to the vendors we visited at central market, I frequented several different shops while playing outside with my friends.
There was a bakery right outside our building where I would buy loaves of bread, pick out the inside of the loaf and eat the crust second. Another corner shop I visited sold sauerkraut out of barrels right outside their storefront, making for a delicious snack after playing soccer all day. At home, I did not mind eating onion and tomato sandwiches because the ingredients were so fresh you could not help but enjoy the taste.
My eating habits changed when my family and I moved to Lancaster, PA in the summer of 1994. At the age of 10, I finally had my first Big Mac meal with a vanilla soft cone for dessert. I learned what a microwave is and I had my first experience eating cereal…I still hate Fruity Pebbles to this day.
Needless to say, it was a substantial transition going from fresh farm food to packaged and processed alternatives. More so for my parents than my sister and I, but it was still a noticeable change. You could say we were experiencing a bit of culture shock.
Once the initial shock wore off and our taste buds became acclimated to the new food culture, the norm became processed food out of the box. It was much less expensive than the food at local markets or the Polish Delis.
As the years went by, I continued being an active kid and teenager. Instead of soccer though, I developed a passion for basketball that led me to play for my high school team. After graduating high school, I was accepted to Temple University, but different circumstances prevented me from attending and instead I landed a job with my friend’s family landscape company.
At the time, I thought it would just be a temporary summer position, but instead it has developed into a career and a lifestyle I am passionate about. While working in the landscape industry, I have acquired numerous skills related to the trade. More importantly, I became increasingly more interested in the symbiosis we have with nature.
This interest has reconnected me with the organic food that has eluded me since leaving Poland. Despite not having my grandma to cook delicious meals with those ingredients, I still get nostalgic when buying fresh fruit, sausage links, and other items.
In addition to a renewed appreciation for organic food, landscaping has helped me develop a relationship with nature I would have otherwise never got a chance to experience. It has kept me in great physical shape while teaching me valuable life lessons.
Nature is deceptively simple in my opinion. Plants grow with such ease, seemingly exerting no effort, yet behind the scenes numerous complex systems are working together in perfect harmony.
There is much to learn in this dynamic field; however, the main goal of this site is to ‘ENHANCE YOUR GARDEN’, which refers to more than your garden plot. You will undoubtedly come across many landscaping and gardening articles on this site, but I would love to enhance other areas of your life as well.
As you know, cultivating your plants and vegetables requires conditions suitable for the plant. Likewise, let this be an environment for cultivating a growth mindset that sprouts more than just a tree of horticultural knowledge.
Let us learn about horticultural and agricultural practices in order to solve the food and clean water shortages in this world. Let us gain insight into our own habits and behaviors through careful examination of the natural world. Let’s be healthy by growing our own food, enjoying the great outdoors and catching a tan working on the yard instead of working on your tan by the pool. (Pool feels much better after the work is done)
Finally, let nature bring us all closer together. Share your knowledge, your photos and how to videos, your favorite hiking spots, your best gardening tips, your weekend project results and how you have started living a more simplistic and holistic lifestyle.
I certainly will be sharing the knowledge I learn from horticultural experts, from operating my own landscaping business as well as from other sources related to the natural holistic lifestyle.
Please contact me with any questions by leaving a comment or through social media networks. I will be happy to answer your questions and consult you regarding any issues you might be experiencing. Maybe if you are close enough, I could even spruce up YOUR yard personally!
Thank you for reading my story and for visiting my site.