Horticulture is his Heritage -- Andrew Romanchik
By: Pamela Jean Horter-Moore
I was first attracted to Andrew Romanchik’s orchid collection when he sent three photos of flowering orchids for Show and Tell to Jim Yamber, OSWP Editor, via email on March 31st. In that email, Andrew remarked that the stunning Paphiopedium callosum ‘Show Stopper’ x Paph. Pitchweb was his first Paph in bloom. I wanted to learn more about the person who grew such lovely orchids but who wasn’t necessarily a long-time grower.
Andrew Romanchik is 15, but his roots go back centuries to the Ukraine, where his ancestors brought their gift for horticulture to the United States. He prides himself on coming from a long line of farmers.
“The Ukraine is known as the Breadbasket of Europe because it is the largest land mass in the world containing chernozem, a soil rich in humus,” Andrew explains. “My grandmother’s love for gardening was passed onto her children and grandchildren. The diversity and great numbers within the orchid family have attracted my cousins. It rubbed off on me. Taking care of orchids is a very calming feeling.
“If anyone in the family wants to know why they haven’t seen me for hours, it’s probably because I’ve been out in the garage at the workbench repotting my orchids.”
Andrew’s interest and aptitude for gardening come naturally through his Ukraine background, but his inspiration for orchids in particular might be in part because of his cousin, Natalie Turicik, the daughter of one of his mother’s three sisters, who induced him to join OSWP in March 2020 just as the pandemic was becoming an issue. “She’s an impressive grower, and I have learned a lot from her. She has helped me hone my skill.”
His first acquaintance with growing orchids began on his tenth or eleventh birthday, when he was promised three plants, and one of them was an orchid. That orchid died, but he received another orchid a couple of years later that continues to thrive.
“I consider myself a beginning-to-intermediate orchidist,” says Andrew. “I started out with Phalaenopsis, and then moved onto Cattleyas. No there is no end to it. I currently have around 65 orchids.
“I actually began gardening in earnest at age eight or so, and I continue to have an interest in all plants, but orchids are my favorites. It’s the largest and most diverse family of plants on the planet, and you can’t master them all. That is what makes them so interesting.”
Andrew maintains an interest in many types of plants. During a trip to South Carolina, he developed an obsession with the Spanish moss hanging from the trees. Spanish moss, of course, is an unusual plant in its own right with a mystique of its own. Andrew has nurtured Spanish moss on an apple tree in his yard from which he hangs his Vanda in the summer. They just go together so well.
“When I began this hobby in earnest, I was surprised at the number of orchid growers within my church and within my community.”
Like so many orchid enthusiasts, Andrew shares his successes with his parents and older sisters. They have come to know a little bit more about orchids, even if it hasn’t been their intention. “During the Covid lockdown, I was always bothering my parents while they were working from home.”
The reward of growing orchids is addictive. A person wants to repeat the experience again and again. Andrew loved not having to go to school during lockdown. At home with the orchids, he could utilize the time to research and dive into them.
Although Andrew says that he has “infested” several rooms in the house with orchids, one room in particular has the best setting. Called the “Animal-Spotting Room” by the family because its expansive windows allow sightings of deer and other wildlife, this part of the house provides natural light and plenty of shelving for orchids. Since Andrew’s parents enjoy having their coffee in this room, which also includes the computer, the family is surrounded by the beauty of the flowers and by the clean air the orchids provide.
Andrew has grow-lights on some of the shelves in the Animal-Spotting Room, and he summers his orchids outdoors in a shady location wherever it is appropriate.
There are three orchids that Andrew considers his favorites: Vandas, because they can be grown with Spanish moss; Cattleyas, because he had admired them in his cousin’s collection; and Zygopetalum, because of their fragrance.
“I get whatever orchid I can afford with my chore money or whatever I can get my hands on,” says Andrew.
Andrew lives in Franklin Park and will be entering the tenth grade at North Allegheny High School. He has two older sisters -- one in college and the other a senior in high school. He would like to study Constitutional law someday and become an attorney, ideally in Washington, DC, working in areas of treason and espionage. Like plants, laws grow and evolve, and provide opportunities for young people to play an active role.
Andrew looks forward to being fully vaccinated so he can ditch the mask. He is eager to take part in activities again, like the OSWP Orchid Swap and in-person meetings.
Not that he hasn’t been busy. He spent the month of May doing political canvasing for the primary election, taking tests in school, and preparing for the Keystone Exams, which are mandatory for graduation. He has had a lot of orchids to repot.
Andrew cautions new orchidists not to love their plants to death. “Don’t overthink it. Every single thing I do, I wonder whether this is right or that is right. I over-nurture, put in too much care, overwater, and the result is root rot.” Perhaps Andrew’s growing success with orchids is derived from the feeling of calmness that he gets when working with them. As a horticulturalist with a Ukrainian heritage, Andrew understands that there is a gift to giving an orchid what it needs, not what you think it needs.