Though born in Boston, Church spent his childhood in southern California and began the study of garden design at the University of California, Berkeley, eventually graduating from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He became involved in landscape architecture at a time of transition and experimentation. Travel through Italy and Spain exposed him to cultures in which outdoor living was similar to that of his native California, and this was a major influence on his design approach.
Throughout 40 years of practice he experimented with modern forms and manipulated texture, color and space, all while attending to the practical necessities of site, architecture, and client. Creating nearly 2,000 gardens, in addition to several major large- scale public commissions, his voice was unique, distinct, and influential. His two books, Gardens are for People and Your Private World, serve as easy to read manuals on modern residential garden design. The Donnell Garden in Sonoma, California remains his most famous design. Other notable projects include Parkmerced, Valencia Public Housing, both in San Francisco, and the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. Notable employees included Garrett Eckbo, Lawrence Halprin, and Douglas Baylis.