In 1952, third-generation horticulturist Bill Evans was called to landscape the grounds of Walt Disney’s Holmby Hills home as well as the gardens that surrounded his backyard railroad, the Carolwood Pacific. Little did he know at the time, however, Walt had another task percolating in the back of his mind. In 1954, Walt asked Bill and his brother, Jack, “How about you fellows landscaping Disneyland for me?”
Within a year, Bill helped transform 80 acres of Anaheim orange groves into lush theme park attractions, including the Jungle Cruise. With its canopy of bamboo, ficus, and palms, which tower 70 feet overhead, the two-acre man-made jungle was described by Bill as “the best darn jungle this side of Costa Rica.”
Indeed, Bill was known not only for using unusual plants, but for using plants in unusual ways. As Disney Imagineer Terry Palmer explained:
“In the Jungle Cruise, there’s a group of orange trees that most people would never recognize because Bill planted them upside down. He decided the gnarled roots of the orange trees looked like suitably exotic jungle branches.”
Born June 10, 1910, in Santa Monica, California, Bill’s first botanical classroom was his father’s three-acre garden. It was filled with exotic plants, including 150 varieties of hibiscus, collected by his father. In 1928, Bill joined the Merchant Marine and, while he traveled the world aboard the S.S. President Harrison, he gathered exotic seeds for his father’s garden from distant lands including the West Indies, South Africa, and Australia.
Upon his return from duty, Bill studied at Pasadena City College before proceeding to Stanford, where he majored in geology. His education was cut short, however, by the Great Depression. In 1931, he helped transform his father’s garden into a nursery business—Evans and Reeves Landscaping. Their inventory of rare and exotic plants soon caught the attention of Hollywood’s elite; among their celebrity clientele were Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, and, ultimately, Walt Disney.
After Disneyland opened in July 1955, Bill stayed on as a consultant, drawing landscape plans, installing materials and supervising maintenance of the Park. Later, he was named director of landscape architecture, working on Disneyland additions and the master plan for Walt Disney World and EPCOT Center.
In 1975, Bill retired from Disney, but was soon summoned back to consult on landscape design for Tokyo Disneyland. He also consulted on the schematic designs for Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Resort Hotel, Discovery Island, Typhoon Lagoon, Disney-MGM Studios, and other elements of the Florida resort. He was key in selecting plants for Disneyland Paris and Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida.
Bill Evans passed away on August 16, 2002, at the age of 92. He was posthumously awarded the American Society of Landscape Architects Medal for his lifetime of achievements.