In 1968 when the Governor's Residence was completed, the lawns on the three-acre property were sparsely landscaped. In 1972, the floods that followed Hurricane Agnes swept away most of the plantings and those that remained were weakened and suffered severe winter damage. Following the flood, landscaping was put on hold while the restoration of the residence began. With no trees or shrubbery in the front of the property, the governor and his family had no privacy to enjoy the outdoors.
Seven years after the devastating flood, Governor Richard Thornburgh and his wife Ginny moved into the Residence. Mrs. Thornburgh spearheaded the restoration of the Residence grounds. Under her leadership, a committee of individuals who were knowledgeable in horticulture and landscape design was established. Private funds were raised to hire a professional landscape architectural firm, Seay and Ridenour, Inc., of Pittsburgh, to design a comprehensive master plan for the gardens.
In 1998 First Lady Michele Ridge organized a public/private partnership to renovate the Gardens. in 2002, Governors Ridge and Schweiker and First Ladies Ridge and Schweiker dedicated The Richard C. von Hess Gardens which include: the Susquehanna Gardens, Penn's Woods and the West Lawn. One of these landscaped spaces, Penn's Woods, is an educational showpiece featuring historically significant plants, shrubs, and flowers native to Pennsylvania.
To address drainage issues on the property, a shade and a sun rain garden were installed in 2017 under the direction of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The Residence Horticultural Advisory Committee is a group of volunteers who advise on matters of health, growth, and change of the gardens.