‘In the Garden’: How Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley & Alan Jackson Made the Hymn So Joyful

by Jim Casey

Along with “Amazing Grace,” “How Firm a Foundation,” “How Great Thou Art,” and more, “In the Garden” is one of the most recognizable gospel hymns of all time. The song was written by C. Austin Miles circa 1912. Miles was a prolific tunesmith, giving up his profession as a pharmacist in the 1890s to focus on writing. He penned more than 300 gospel songs before his death in 1946. However, “In the Garden” is his best-known composition.

“In the Garden” has been recorded by a number of country artists over the years, including Tennessee Ernie Ford, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell, John Prine, Brad Paisley, and more.

Let’s take a look at—and listen to—three versions of “In the Garden” by Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, and Alan Jackson.

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson recorded “In the Garden” on his 1976 album, The Troublemaker. Nelson recorded the album in 1973 for Atlantic Records, but the label eventually canceled its release. Willie later signed with Columbia Records, which released his album of gospel standards in 1976. The Troublemaker also featured Willie singing gospel hymns “Sweet By and By,” “Precious Memories,” “Shall We Gather,” and more.

A little sidebar: Willie recorded the gospel standards over two days during a 1973 studio session. Afterwards, he recorded his 1973 studio album, Shotgun Willie, which featured tunes “Whiskey River,” “Bubbles in My Beer,” the title track, and more.

Elvis Presley

Elvis recorded “In the Garden” on his 1967 gospel album, How Great Thou Art. The 13-song offering included gospel standards “How Great Thou Art,” “Farther Along,” “By and By,” and more.

While nominated for 14 Grammy Awards (3 wins) during his career, Elvis copped his first Grammy for Best Sacred Performance in 1967 for How Great Thou Art. In fact, Elvis earned three Grammy Awards during his career—but all three were in the gospel categories. He won Best Inspirational Performance in 1972 for “He Touched Me.” And Elvis won the same category in 1974 for a live version of “How Great Thou Art.”

Alan Jackson

Alan Jackson returned to the gospel music he loved as a child by recording Precious Memories in 2006. He packed 15 of his favorite gospel tunes on that album, including “How Great Thou Art,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “In the Garden,” and more. Alan recorded the album as a gift for his mother. The album has been certified Platinum by the RIAA for sales of 1 million units. Precious Memories also reached No. 1 on both the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and the Top Christian Albums chart

Seven years later, Alan dropped Precious Memories Volume II, with 11 more hymns, including “Amazing Grace.”