Recognized for his work as a landscape gardener, designer, writer and horticulturist, William Saunders was born in Scotland and studied horticulture and landscape gardening at Madras College in St. Andrews, and then at the University of Edinburgh. He worked briefly in London before immigrating to the United States in 1848.
Saunders worked as a gardener in Connecticut and Maryland on several large estates. In 1854, he began a design partnership with horticulturist Thomas Meehan in Philadelphia. Their projects included the design for Rose Hill and Oak Ridge Cemeteries in Illinois and the plan for Hunting Park in Philadelphia. The United States Department of Agricultural appointed Saunders superintendent of its propagating gardens in Washington, DC in 1862. There, he was instrumental in introducing a number of significant non-native plants to the United States. In 1863, Saunders was selected to design the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg, the well-known site of Lincoln’s famous 1863 address. Later, he designed the grounds of a memorial for Lincoln at Oak Ridge Cemetery and plans for the town of Garrett Park in Maryland.
In addition to his design work, Saunder’s pursued writing and philanthropic interests. He published numerous articles in horticulture and building magazines, and was a founding member of the National Grange, an organization devoted to championing the welfare of rural communities in America.