By Kevin Redding
Carolyn and James Borella of Borella Nursery have been making Smithtown a better, kinder and prettier place to live for decades — although they would probably refuse to take any credit for that.
The Borellas, whose family business of wholesale growing officially started in 1958, have gone out of their way to beautify just about every inch of the town, often free of charge, and that’s just a small percentage of the dynamic duo’s selfless efforts.
For all they’ve done to help their community and its people thrive, the Borellas have been recognized as Times Beacon News Media People of the Year.
Carolyn Borella, 61, said everything they do comes from the heart.
“We love living here, we love this community [and] all the businesses; we want people to live here and we want Smithtown to stay beautiful,” she said in an interview.
“[They] are two of the kindest, most giving and hard working people I have come to know.”
— Mike Donnelly
James Borella, 55, who was raised in the house that still stands next to the nursery, said he can’t imagine ever leaving where he’s been his whole life.
“I have a lot of friends retiring shortly or [who] have retired and they’re all moving and say ‘why don’t you move and retire out in the Carolinas or Florida?’ I say ‘there ain’t no way in hell I’m leaving here.’ Everything I love is within this town.”
When she’s not serving in the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce, Smithtown Business and Professional Women’s Network or at the Smithtown Historical Society planning festivals and taking care of the farm animals sheltered there, Carolyn Borella joins her husband in going to local restaurants to put poinsettias in their windows, donating leftover flowers and plants from their greenhouses to spruce up town hall, and growing vegetable flats for different churches to feed the local hungry.
With their son Mike Borella, 37, who works with them at the nursery, the Borellas built the first Garden of Freedom — a special garden decorated with statues, American flags and a banner thanking those who serve the country as firefighters, police officers, military personnel, as well as K9 dogs — in New York, for which they were recently recognized at a dedication and community celebration by Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. (R) and Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset).
According to Martin Aponte, president of the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park in Smithtown, the two have been instrumental in providing whatever the site needs since it opened in 2011.
“They have been so gracious with supplying us plants and bulbs and trees at no cost,” he said. “Around Christmastime, they have been giving us so much roping and so many wreaths; they are a staple in the town of Smithtown and their hamlet of Nesconset.”
Aponte said the Borellas are great people who believe in giving back.
“They’ve been generous with so many others throughout the community,” he said.
Just mentioning their names ushers in a wave of praise and admiration among Smithtown residents.
“[They] are two of the kindest, most giving and hard working people I have come to know,” Mike Donnelly, organizer of Smithtown’s 350th anniversary parade said, in which the couple was honored. “Their level of helping [and] sharing is beyond what most people are capable of being aware of. Running into them always makes me feel good.”
Christine DeAugustino, president of the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce, said the Borellas have been quietly supporting the town behind the scenes for years.
Speaking specifically about Carolyn Borella, DeAugustino said “the woman’s got a heart of gold.”
Carolyn Borella, known for loving all people and animals alike, recently held a fundraiser at the historical society and raised $6,000 for the maintenance and feeding of the animals, which include horses, ponies, sheep, chickens and barn cats. Fittingly, she also served as Mrs. Claus for holiday celebrations in Nesconset.
Carolyn Borella said her mother inspired her to give back.
“[Growing up] in Valley Stream, we were very money-challenged and I was raised by my mother, who was both my mother and my father because my father left when I was a very young girl,” she said. “My mother taught me three things: Soap and water is cheap; you will always be clean. I know how to cook and grow a garden, so you will always have food. And I will teach you what’s in your heart, and you will be the richest girl in the world … and I am; I may not have everything but I have it all.”
The couple met March 28, 1987, and got married 90 days later on July 3 at the foot of her mother’s hospital bed right before she died. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
“There ain’t no way in hell I’m leaving here. Everything I love is within this town.”
— James Borella
She said they have a complete ying-yang dynamic, and the fact they get along so well working together 365 days a year, 7 days a week, is a testament to that.
The nursery business came from James Borella’s family. His mother was raised in the world of greenhouses as his grandfather had a string of them in Flushing, Queens, back in the 1930s and ’40s. His father, on the other hand, was a potato farmer who would eventually be persuaded to drop his trade and start a nursery with his wife.
As James Borella said, it wasn’t much of a challenge for his father since working in the greenhouse is just “glorified farming.”
When his parents were retiring and mulling over the idea of closing down their long-running business, James Borella, who had been an employee, couldn’t bear seeing all their hard work disappear and decided to take it over in 1990.
From there, he was a one-man-band working behind the desk, growing in the greenhouses, hopping in the truck to deliver everything, until about 1995 when it was all getting too much for him to carry on his own.
He said he went to his wife and asked if she could come in and help, and she joined in, committed to building something together with him.
“That’s when Borella Nursery really started to go in a completely different direction and become the Borella Nursery it is today,” Mike Borella said, who works mostly in sales but also drives and delivers and helps customers. “From then until now, we’ve probably tripled our business.”
He said he wanted to make it known there are things besides working that his parents enjoy, like being in the Smithtown Bay Yacht Club.
But, naturally, the couple has taken it upon themselves to donate all the plants there, as well as organize three movie nights during the summer at Long Beach for the yacht club community.
“We set up a painter’s tarp, bring the movie, I bring a cotton candy machine and popcorn,” Carolyn Borella said. “It’s all free.”