Stephen Gregg Hudson County Park in Bayonne has received a makeover in the name of a fallen citizen activist and wife of a prominent councilman.
The gardens in the park, in between the famous stairs and the bathrooms, were redone and will now bare the name of Cherie La Pelusa, who passed away from COVID-19 in April of 2020.
In an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa Sr. described how the gardens were renovated and came to honor his late wife. La Pelusa, who is also the Manager of Hudson County Parks and Grounds, said that prior to the renovations, the area had some bushes and greenery but was far from the beauty it now exudes.
“This was an area that I looked at and I had mentioned to the County Commissioner Ken Kopacz that I would really like to do something there,” he said. “He had showed me an old postcard that showed that it had some gardens. I said that I could design something nice in there, but I’m going to need a crew to put this together.”
Forming the Landscaping Division
In the midst of planning for the garden upgrades, the need for a dedicated landscaping crew arose. La Pelusa, who has operated La Pelusa Landscaping Co. for decades, was put at the helm.
“The more we talked, the we realized we needed a Landscaping Division, which the county did not have,” he said. “So we formed a Landscaping Division, and since I have 34 years of experience, they put me in charge. I put together a crew, so there’s a total of six of us.”
The other five members of the Landscaping Division include Supervisor Federico Nealon, Sykes Dunbar, Harold Healy, Mike Soluri, Jerome DePippa, in addition to La Pelusa himself.
“I put together this crew and designed ten different gardens,” he said. “I tried to tweak them and improve one after the other. I was able to come up with some really great improvements, and it came down to two main designs.”
Then La Pelusa and his crew went down and measured out the gardens.
“We really didn’t know what size to make them,” he said. “There were already six areas that were like a sunken garden. They were rectangular areas that are lower than the areas around it. There’s three on the left side of the garden and three on the right side.”
‘Most ambitious’ county parks project
According to La Pelusa, the plants he chose to plant in the garden aim to showcase vibrancy all year long.
“We put shrubs all around each garden,” he said. “We put different flowering perennials. Each garden is going to have in the middle section along, over 275 flowering plants. By time the summer comes next year, that will all be in bloom… I designed it so that I could get the maximum of color for the whole year, the things that bloom the most for the longest time. that’s why we really tried to get as much color in there as possible. We have things that are not just flowering, but the texture of the plant itself has a different color. So even in the winter you’ll have some color in the area.”
La Pelusa said there are a total of approximately 3,000 plants in the gardens. He said it was his “Palace of Versailles,” calling it the “most ambitious project in the county parks in probably their history.”
“I designed it in a way that people can walk through and admire it,” he said. “People can take pictures for their special events, their weddings, proms, and things like that. I made sure there were pavers so that people can stand and take pictures with that in the background. I put a lot of thought into this.”
Storm water management upgrades
The project not only renovated the gardens, but also added additional drains to the area. La Pelusa said there were existing drains in the area to help with flooding from storms.
“I wasn’t sure why there were drains in them, but I knew that the area was prone to some flooding,” he said. “Some of the rains, we saw rain water pool in those areas, but usually only a couple inches and after a half a day or so it went down.”
During the reconstruction of the gardens, La Pelusa witnessed this first hand.
“We had a few heavy rainfalls,” he said. “We have a sewer outfall that’s not too far from there that overflows once in a while. There were a lot of little issues and things that are wrong that came about.”
One of those issues was Hurricane Ida, which left much of Bayonne flooded after remnants of the storm battered New Jersey in early September.
“The whole bottom section of the park was under two feet of water,” he said. “Yet everything still pretty much survived… There were a lot of people betting against us, but my bosses had faith in me. THey were able to make a budget for it. If they don’t give you the tools, you can’t get the job done.”
The new drains and greenery will help improve storm water management in the area. In addition to extra drains, the gardens were fitted with a sprinkler system to keep those plants alive. La Pelusa said the project took about four months, as the crew would work on the project as well as others in the other county parks.
“We couldn’t just dedicate four months for one park,” he said. “We would stop and then come back to this project.”
Commemorating the gardens for Cherie
As work continued throughout September, two important days in La Pelusa’s life gave the project a deeper meaning.
“As we were doing it, September 29th came around,” he said. “It was my anniversary. I always had my wife on my mind. And then November 7th passed, it was her birthday. Around that time in September, I went to my bosses and asked them if we can name this after my wife. There was no question about it.”
La Pelusa said that after some discussions, there will also be a plaque with her name on it at the site of the gardens, which will officially be named: Cherie La Pelusa Memorial Gardens. He said that this was personal to most of the crew that worked on the project as well.
“Most of them knew Cherie as well,” he said. “So they knew what type of person she was. She was always Bayonne first. Being that this is in Bayonne, this is not just a tribute to her, but to everybody who lost their lives to COVID-19.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.