Alfred William Buxton was born on 17 September 1872 at Hanley, Staffordshire, England, the son of Ann Johnson, a painter of pottery, and her husband, Alfred Buxton, a labourer. The family arrived in New Zealand probably in 1886. Young Alfred was immediately apprenticed to Thomas Abbott, Canterbury's leading nurseryman. On 19 March 1895 he married Emily Ann Brown at the Wesleyan Church, Papanui Road, Christchurch.
During his career Buxton was to acquire three principal nurseries. The first, initially one acre on Springfield Road, was bought in 1893; a second, Opawa Nursery, in stages after 1902 in partnership with a Christchurch businessman, J. A. Pannett; and a third, Belfast Nurseries, in 1923. The Ōpawa and Belfast nurseries were 18 and 38 acres respectively. Buxton and Pannett formed a private company, A. W. Buxton Limited, landscape gardeners, nursery gardeners and asphalters, with Buxton holding two-thirds of the initial share capital.
The company landscaped urban and rural properties throughout the South Island, mainly on the east coast, and at various locations in the lower half of the North Island. Its clients were predominantly members of the rural élite, particularly stud farmers, who had been attracted by the company's promotional exhibitions at agricultural and pastoral shows. The First World War period was one of pastoral affluence and a Buxton landscape became a symbol of that affluence. Prominent sites included Achray, Rotherham; Greenhill, south of Bridge Pā; and Panikau, north of Gisborne. Work at Panikau began in 1919, finished in 1921 and cost £8,544. Plans were also prepared for several urban parks, including Caroline Bay in Timaru, Masterton Park, and Temuka Domain. Buxton's landscape designs were typified by curved entrance drives, perimeter plantings of forest trees, water, and Japanese features such as lanterns, pergolas and rockeries.
Alfred Buxton's role in designing the company's landscapes is not easy to define because it overlapped with that of his landscape draughtsman, Edgar Taylor. Essentially, Buxton was a very successful salesman, adept at selling outlines of design ideas to prospective clients. It was Taylor who drew up the detailed plans. However, Buxton's considerable design talent was demonstrated in his plans for Homewood, Karori; Lesmahagow, Benhar; and Kokonga near Ranfurly; these were drawn up after Taylor had left his employment.
In 1926 A. W. Buxton Limited was forced into liquidation. The company's cash flow crisis was brought about by the rural economic downturn of the early 1920s and an unsuccessful speculative orchard development at Braeburn, Nelson. Alfred Buxton and his sons, Trevor and Raymond, took over the outstanding landscape projects and then in 1929 formed a separate landscape construction company, A. W. Buxton and Sons Limited. This was to continue to trade until 1937 from Alfred Buxton's residence in Papanui Road, Christchurch. In 1928 Buxton was granted a national diploma of horticulture by the New Zealand Institute of Horticulture in recognition of his skill and standing in the industry.
From 1938 Alfred Buxton grew flowers commercially at Ōtaki. He specialised in Iceland poppies and was one of the first to introduce pastel shades. He also continued to design some landscapes, which included Mona Vale, Christchurch. He died in Wellington on 22 August 1950, survived by his wife, Emily, one son and one daughter.
Buxton was the most significant landscape gardener in New Zealand in the first half of the twentieth century. His publications included A. W. Buxton and Sons' descriptive catalogues and six articles on landscaping in the first issues of New Zealand Gardening (1931–32). He was a member of the New Zealand Association of Nurserymen from 1914 to 1927 and of its successor, the New Zealand Horticultural Trades Association, from 1927 to 1950. At different times he served as president, vice president and on various committees in these organisations. His professional prominence was as an entrepreneur who caused landscape work to be adopted more widely throughout the community.
A short, snappily dressed man, Alfred Buxton had a military bearing and a rather brusque manner. He was innovative and strove for perfection in landscape design, even if it cost him money. The gardens and parks he created are his lasting memorial.