Aiton was born near Hamilton. Having been regularly trained to the profession of a gardener, he travelled to London in 1754, and became assistant to Philip Miller, then superintendent of the Chelsea Physic Garden. In 1759 he was appointed director of the newly established botanical garden at Kew, where he remained until his death. He effected many improvements at the gardens, and in 1789 he published Hortus Kewensis, a catalogue of the plants cultivated there. He is buried at nearby St. Anne's Church, Kew.
A second and enlarged edition of the Hortus was brought out in 1810–1813 by his eldest son.
- Aiton, W. (1789). Hortus Kewensis. London: George Nicol.
- Pagmenta, Frank (2009) The Aitons: Gardeners to their Majesties. Richmond Local History Society. ISBN 9780955071751
|Wikisource has the text of the 1885–1900 Dictionary of National Biography's article about William Aiton.|