Dolly Vivalo has a back room unlike anyone else's.
To begin with, it smells splendid, permeated by the aroma of dried herbs, which hang upside down from wood beams along the ceiling. It looks like a colonial Christmas, even in November. Shelves of brightly colored ribbons line a wall; dried floral arrangements and herb "trees" in small clay pots adorn tables; and small evergreens sport charming wooden ice skate ornaments.
Dolly's back room, also known as her "Touch of Williamsburg" shop, is the realization of a dream, the union of Dolly's skill and love for gardening.
"I give classes here, make arrangements, hold holiday open houses ... anything floral," Dolly said.
Surviving on business generated mostly by word of mouth, Dolly (who was born Marie Catherine, but whose sister thought she was "such a doll" she called her Dolly) is preparing for another open house Saturday and Sunday.
"My dad was my biggest fan and probably where I got my love of gardening," Dolly said. "I never really was interested in or appreciated his garden till I was older, but I remember him working in it. My father would bring my mother a rose every day."
Dolly didn't begin gardening however until her five children were school age. She began to appreciate the joy of giving away dried floral arrangements and bouquets.
Starting up shop: Then, about 20 years ago, Dolly and a friend, Honor O'Reilly, met for lunch and fantasized starting a business capitalizing on Dolly's love of herbs and flowers and their respective collections: pewter and plaid. With 14 children between them, it started as pie in the sky, but by the time dessert was served, the two moms had decided to ask their husbands for investment capital.
For a year, Pewter & amp; Plaid sold floral arrangements. Then Dolly left the business to begin working from her basement. "I didn't like the working conditions though," she said. "I wanted windows to look out of and a bigger space. I wanted to add on to the house."
Her husband, Joe, agreed, and the two sent away for plans to build a rustic double garage that would serve as a workspace and shop. As the "barn room" neared completion, the builders suggested paneling the walls, and finishing the ceiling. Dolly, already picturing the rough hewn space filled with herbs and floral arrangements, shouted a definitive "No!"
Holiday crafts: Now Dolly uses the space to teach groups to create holiday wreaths or dried bouquets and arrangements. "I love it when people come in and say, 'Oh I can't do that wreath!' and I reply, 'Well, you're not going home till you do it!' [laughs] ... I love seeing faces when they see what they've accomplished."
Dolly also lectures about herbs and flowers at Fellows Riverside Gardens. And she continues to garden. "I grow a lot of herbs and some of the flowers that go into my arrangements," she said.
Her loves go beyond the garden and include tennis, spending time with her children and grandchildren, and cooking with herbs. For a time, Dolly was a Eucharistic minister of the Catholic church, giving communion to shut ins -- "one of the most wonderful things of my life."
As the holiday open house nears, Dolly is gearing up for her visitors.
"I'm not a do ahead person," she said, explaining how these last preparation days will be hectic. "But I do fine with that. When it finally begins, I wash my hands of it. We put out all the arrangements and decorations, lemon tea bread, herb cheese spread, and holiday punch, start the Christmas music, then I just sit and visit with people."