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Members Corner: Susan Kormanik Goes 'Way, Way Back'

Members Corner: Susan Kormanik Goes 'Way, Way Back'

Meet Susan Kormanik, a member of Berkshire Botanical Garden since “way, way back.” 

On a perfect Berkshire summer day — sunny, slight breeze, no humidity — she stopped by the BBG Gift Shop to pick up a favorite: a bottle of salad dressing made by the BBG’s Herb Associates.

“The raspberry vinaigrette is excellent,” Susan said. 

A full 55 years ago, Susan was first introduced to Berkshire Botanical Garden, an institution upon which she has come to rely, and not just for salad dressing. BBG has been a brain trust for all things horticultural and an epicenter of endearing friendships. 

The year was 1967. She had recently moved with her husband, Bill, from New York City to the Berkshire town of Alford, where she promptly joined the Alford Garden Club. Comprised at the time of farmers’ wives and the occupiers of Alford’s estates, the club met monthly, its members dressed in their Sunday best. 

At that time, as today, BBG was integrated into the local garden clubs, and vice versa. When it came time for BBG’s annual Harvest Festival, the Alford Garden Club would sell used jewelry collected throughout the year. The venerable Roy Boutard, who served as the Garden’s executive director from 1955 to 1985, constructed a hexagonal wooden area where the club would display its wares. 

“We had a member who had an old barn where we kept any jewelry that you wanted to be put in the sale,” Susan said. “At the time, I had extraordinary eyesight, so my job was to look and say, ‘Is this gold-filled? Does it say carats? Is it sterling silver? Are there any markings on it?’ And I could see it without glasses or magnifiers. The antique dealers and other people got to know that they could get tremendous bargains on jewelry at the Harvest Festival.”

Here in the Berkshires, Susan eventually became a well-respected nurse practitioner. Among her jobs was working with children with severe disabilities.

And, yes, along the way, she became a proficient home gardener — eventually. She recalled how, years ago, her mother-in-law gave her a plant for her garden. Susan didn’t know what it was. She plugged it into the garden, among her flowers, but then something curious happened. The plant started sprouting exotic-looking purple flowers. She told her mother-in-law about it, and her mother-in-law responded, “That was eggplant, and you were supposed to put that in the vegetable garden.” 

“I didn't have a lot of knowledge at the time,” Susan recalled with a laugh.

Gardening became a great escape for her, a particular corrective for a sometimes high-stressed career.

“I worked with a physician who had a very stressful practice, and he had succulents that he grew, and he built a huge greenhouse just for the succulents,” she said. “Sometimes, after a terrible day, he’d say, ‘This is going to be a day in the greenhouse.’”

BBG became Susan’s go-to resource for gardening questions. “The usual things,” she said. “Most people didn't want to use pesticides, so I learned about natural methods to control pests and about the sorts of plants that had the best chance to survive in the Berkshires.”

Now retired, she and her husband volunteer for Meals on Wheels delivering hardy feasts to shut-ins along a 58-mile route in the hill towns. They enjoy the theater. Though on a smaller scale than in the past, gardening remains a fixture in Susan’s life, and something she hopes the younger generations will embrace. BBG remains a favorite institution.

“Over the years, I've watched the Garden grow, and it's gotten even more involved in the community,” she said. “They have educational programs now in the schools that they didn't have before, initiating children into the idea of nature and growing food and caring for plants.

“When people from metropolitan areas come here, they just marvel at everything: how well-kept the Graden is, how beautiful it is and how peaceful. I hear that word a lot: peaceful.”

On this perfect Berkshire summer day, Susan has places to be and friends to visit. She has her bottle of dressing, this one French, with mixed herbs. 

But her favorite? The Herb Associates' raspberry vinaigrette.

“It’s just the right amount of vinegar,” she said, “and everything in it is just superb.”

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