William Aiton lived from 1731 to 2 February 1793. Trained as a gardener, he went on to become the first director of Kew Gardens in London. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
William Aiton was born near Hamilton, in what is now South Lanarkshire. He trained to be a gardener, but showed great aptitude for the theoretical and scientific side of his craft. He travelled to London in 1754 and, at the age of 23, was able to gain a post as an assistant to Philip Miller, then superintendent of the Chelsea Physic Garden.
In 1759 and still aged only 29, Aiton was appointed to the post of Director of the newly established Kew Gardens in London. He remained Director until his death in 1793, doing much to ensure their early success and working closely with the garden's patron, King George III, an enthusiastic gardener in his own right. Having commissioned the collection of plants from around the world, Aiton set to work in the 1780s to catalogue every plant being grown at Kew, which meant pretty much every plant then being grown in the country. The result, published in 1789, was called Hortus Kewensis and included information on the country of origin of every plant, who first cultivated it in Britain, and when.
On his death, William Aiton was succeeded as Director at Kew by his son, William Townsend Aiton. The younger Aiton published an enlarged second edition of Hortus Kewensis between 1810 and 1813, and was commissioned by George IV to develop the gardens at Buckingham Palace.