Thomas Dolliver Church (1902-78)
Dolliver, as his family called him, gained his degree in Landscape Design at Berkley and studied further at Harvard in Landscape Architecture. It was from here that he spent six months on a Sheldon Travel Scholarship in Italy and Spain comparing the similarities the Mediterranean and Californian climates.
In 1930 he established his practice as a Landscape Architect in the San Francisco area and was faced with the challenge of small irregular plots on steep hillside sites. He responded with traditional plans, but used raised beds, seat walls, bridges, paving and timber decks, increasing the use of garden space in smaller homes, creating a low maintenance extension to the house - an outdoor living room. Often experimenting with angular forms giving an illusion of greater space, the best known example being the Sullivan garden in 1937.
Following a visit to Europe that year, inspired by the Finnish architect Alvar Alto, he adopted a more relaxed, informal approach first realised in two gardens for the Golden Gate Exhibition in 1939. During the following decade he produced a wide variety of gardens throughout California, including one of the most famous 20th. century gardens, at El Novillero, Sonoma ( also known as the Donnell Gardens).
Built on a hilltop overlooking the valley, encircled by mature oaks, the garden extends visually to the countryside beyond. The kidney shaped swimming pool, redwood decking and paving echoes the rolling hills and winding salt marshes of the valley.
Quote "A garden should have no beginning and no end. And should be pleasing when seen from any angle, not only from the house"
During this period he experimented with new forms such as zigzags and piano curves but would always consider the clients' preferences first, followed by the architecture of the house and the site.
For forty years his influence worked through the 'Sunset Magazine' and subsidiary publications, eagerly read by homeowners and gardeners, not only in America but also in Britain. The 'Sunset Look' was achieved by creating a close relationship between indoors and outdoors, with constant attention given to paving, edgings, containers, decking, walls and the use of low maintenance planting reflecting the dry climate. He also made the most of contrast in texture, colour and form, and doing whatever was right to make the garden liveable in rather than conforming to stiff old rules.
Quote " After greenery, nothing, I believe, enhances a garden more than sculpture.
In 1955 he published 'Gardens are for people' confirming his reputation as one of the pioneers of modernism in garden landscape design known as the 'California Style'.
By the time of a serious illness in 1976 he had designed some 4000 gardens, mostly residential, but with some notable exceptions such as the General Motors Technical Centre with a 22 acre lake and work at Stanford and Berkley University.
In conclusion, Church's success was a result of his skill in being able to combine the rational with the romantic, to relate with the site and concern for detail and materials. Above all, his relationship with his clients who were persuaded to participate in the process. Today most of us here in Southern England, with smaller gardens and the threat of drought every summer will find his ideas will become increasingly relevant.
Quote. Calling an unusual rock The Naked Lady, "every garden should have one", he declared.