In the early 1950s, “green-thumbed” brothers Morgan (known as Bill) and Jack Evans were hired to landscape the grounds of Walt Disney’s Holmby Hills home and the gardens surrounding his backyard railroad, the Carolwood Pacific. In 1954, they received the ultimate challenge when Walt asked, “How about you fellows landscaping Disneyland for me?”
With little time and money, the brothers were creative when transforming the 80 acres of orange groves in Anaheim, Calif. “Walt told me we were all out of loot and that the time had come to put Latin names on the weeds,” said Bill. They also salvaged trees that were slated for removal during construction of the new freeway system in Southern California and planted them in Disneyland.
Sadly, Jack suffered a heart attack two weeks after Disneyland opened and subsequently passed away three years later. Bill went on to become the director of landscape architecture, working on additions to Disneyland and the master plan for Walt Disney World Resort and Epcot Center in Florida.
Born on June 10, 1910, in Santa Monica, Calif., Bill was a third-generation horticulturist. His first botanical classroom was his father’s three-acre garden that was filled with exotic plants, including 150 varieties of hibiscus. In 1928, Bill joined the Merchant Marine. Upon his return from duty, Bill went to Stanford University where he majored in geology. 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 celebrities such as Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor and, ultimately, Walt Disney.
Bill was known not only for using unusual plants, but for using plants in unusual ways. As 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.”
In 1975, Bill retired but continued to consult on landscape design for Tokyo Disneyland. He consulted on the schematic designs for Disney’s Polynesian Resort, Discovery Island, Typhoon Lagoon, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort. He also helped select plants for Disneyland Paris and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Bill was honored with a window on Main Street, U.S.A., above the Opera House, in 1990. The window reads: Evans Gardens, Exotic & Rare Species, Freeway Collections, Est. 1910, Morgan (Bill) Evans, Senior Partner.
Bill was named a Disney Legend in 1992. He died 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.