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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. 

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Penn's Woods

Pink flowers bloom on a green plant.Part of the Richard C. von Hess Gardens, Penn’s Woods is an educational garden featuring native plants of Pennsylvania. This section of the gardens provides the opportunity to learn more about the trees, shrubs, wildflowers, perennials, and ferns that comprise Pennsylvania’s landscape. Penn’s Woods also showcases many historically significant plants that provide connections between people, communities, and landscapes of Pennsylvania. 

​The Jane Shaffer Rose Garden
Roses surround an archway.The Jane Shafer Rose Garden provides a colorful centerpiece to the landscape of the Governor’s Residence. Dedicated by former First Lady Jane Shafer in 1970, the garden features over 250 roses of thirteen different cultivators.

The garden was designed by Mr. James Bob of Hershey Estates and provides a spectacular show of color from mid-May through September.

Rain Gardens at the Residence

RainGardens.jpgThe rain gardens were created in the summer of 2017 to address an ongoing problem of water saturation and runoff in the lowest area of the grounds. Designed and cultivated by a Penn State University landscape architect student under the tutelage of a licensed landscape architect from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the gardens are not only practical but beautiful as well.

All plants used in the design are native to Pennsylvania act as a natural water filtration and retention system while providing food, pollen, and shelter to animals and insects.

​The Susquehanna Garden
Two wooden chairs and a wooden table adorn a brick sidewalk.The Susquehanna Garden was designed as a garden for the First Family to provide privacy in the midst of public spaces. It features a fountain and iron wall sculpture highlighting the Susquehanna River and its wildlife. The design of the wall along Front Street was based on a wall at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, which is located several blocks from Independence Hall in Philadelphia.


Bronze by George Lundeen (b.1948) | Gift of Governor and Mrs. Edward G. Rendell

A bronze sculpture of a boy opposite a cat is on display.

Sculptor George Lundeen specializes in producing fleeting moments of emotion in the hard and enduring material of bronze. A young boy keeps peace between the canine and the feline: a pug on his lap, a golden retriever at his back, and a kitten at the opposite end of the bench. Peacekeeper is located near the entrance to Penn's Woods in the Richard C. von Hess Gardens. 

Born and raised in Holdrege, Nebraska, Lundeen earned his BFA from Hastings College in Nebraska and his MFA from the University of Illinois. He was inspired to sculpt for a living while studying at the Academia de Belle Arte in Florence, Italy, and today lives and works in Loveland, Colorado.


Bessie the Belted Galloway

Fiberglass, Hand-Painted by Amy Kitchen (b.1987) | Gift of Stevens & Lee 

A multi-colored fiberglass cow lays in the grass near a brick sidewalk.

The artist wittily chose the livestock breed, Belted Galloway, as the background for her depictions of the major transportation "beltways" of Pennsylvania and our neighboring states. Local landmarks such as the State Capitol and the Rockville Bridge are prominently featured. Belted Galloway cattle were first imported to the United States in 1950 by a resident of Pennsylvania. Bessie is located in Penn’s Woods. 

Bessie the Belted Galloway was designed and painted by Millersburg High School student Amy Kitchen, as part of the 2004 Harrisburg CowParade, a fundraiser for Harrisburg regional charitable and arts organizations.