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Course CodeVHT012
Fee CodeCT
Duration (approx)600 hours

Train as a Professional Garden Designer

Learn to draw plans, identify and choose plants, and orchestrate stunning designs. Start your own business, or seek employment in the landscape industry.

To obtain the Certificate in Garden Design, you must complete all assignments (including a special assignment); sit for (and pass), two 1.5 hour examinations: one at the end of the first 15 lessons, the other on completing the final 15 lessons.

  • This course leads you through a unique learning experience.
  • Every student will interpret the guide differently and be led differently.
  • Your tutor will be monitoring your progress through the assignments, so if you miss anything he/she will fill you in.


There are 30 lessons are outlined as follows:

1. Introduction to Landscaping

  • Scope and Nature
  • Principles of Landscape Design
  • Design Elements
  • Creating Landscape Effects
  • Using Space
  • Making a Small Garden Look Larger
  • Choosing Plants
  • Using Colour
  • Decorative Touches
  • Light and Colour
  • Pre Planning Information
  • Healthy Gardens

2. Plant Identification

  • Plant Classification and Taxonomic Hierarchy
  • Binomial System
  • Botanical Classification
  • Phyla, Classes, Families
  • Genus, Species, Hybrids, Cultivars
  • Differentiating important Ornamental Plant Families: A basis for learning plant names
  • Plant Culture
  • Garden Renovation: Methodology and Tasks
  • Pruning
  • Weed Management
  • Dealing with Plant Problems

3. History of Gardening

  • Formal, Informal and Natural Gardens
  • Garden Styles
  • Japanese Gardens
  • Naturalistic, Eclectic, Permaculture, Minimalist Gardens
  • Gardens through Time, Ancient Middle Eastern, Chinese, Roman, Spanish, Monastery, Elizabethan, etc
  • Recent Influences ; Le Notre, Rose, Brown, Kent, Jekyll, Burle Marx, etc
  • Some Modern Trends; Bush Gardens, Permaculture Gardens,

4. Drawing Plans

  • Elements of a drawn garden
  • Scale
  • What to Draw With
  • Lettering
  • Landscape Symbols
  • Design Procedure
  • Step by Step Drawing a Plan
  • Introducing Computer Aided Design

5. Soils and Nutrition

  • Importance of Soil
  • Soil Composition, texture, horizons
  • Naming a Soil
  • Improving Soils
  • Landscape Supplies
  • Terminology

6. Understanding the Environment

  • Ecological Concepts
  • The Ecosystem –abiotic and biotic components
  • Environmental influences on soil production
  • Types of Australian Flora; Indo Melanesian, Antarctic, Australian Sclerophyl
  • Review of Australian Plant Families

7. Earthworks and Surveying

  • Moving existing earth
  • Settling Soil
  • Soil Degradation
  • Erosion
  • Soil Compaction
  • Chemical Residues
  • Basic Surveying
  • Triangulation
  • Slope
  • Levelling Terminology
  • Levelling Procedure
  • Earthworks Calculations
  • Using Triangles
  • Horizontal Measurements
  • Horizontal Angles

8. Basic Landscape Construction

  • Specifications and Contracts
  • Contract Terminology
  • Drainage and Erosion
  • Walling
  • Rockeries
  • Steps
  • Types of Playgrounds
  • Making Stable Mounds

9. Surfacing

  • Gradients
  • Surface Materials; gravel, mulch, lawn etc
  • Choosing the appropriate lawn
  • Pavers, stone and gravels
  • Types of Paving Materials
  • Methods for Laying Pavers
  • Concrete
  • Gravel
  • Asphalt
  • Coloured Surfaces
  • Artificial Sports Surfaces
  • Substrates
  • Performance Considerations

10. Garden Structures

  • Understanding and Designing Garden Rooms
  • Furnishing a Garden Room
  • Sculpture
  • Walls
  • Mirrors
  • Water
  • Fountains and Water Displays
  • Feature Pots; Container Plants
  • Layout Problems with Garden Structures
  • Motorised Vehicle Parks
  • Skate Facilities
  • Outdoor Furniture

11. Park Design

  • User Friendly Gardens, seating, shelter, fragrant plants, etc
  • Recreational Landscaping
  • Park Design Criteria
  • Playgrounds
  • Making Community Participation Work

12. Home Garden Design

  • The Entrance
  • Designing a front Garden
  • Scale in a Design
  • Techniques to maintain scale
  • Creating space in small gardens
  • Garden Features for small gardens
  • Outdoor Living Areas; patios, seating, garden structures, etc
  • Pool Areas
  • Barriers
  • Fences

13. Costing and Specifications

  • Buying Plants; what to look for
  • Cost of Garden Maintenance
  • Expensive Areas in Gardens; lawns, containers, annuals, vegetables
  • Less Expensive to Maintain areas; shrubberies, paving, natural bush areas
  • Costing Jobs
  • The Market for Landscape Contractors; government sector, developers, commercial sector, private sector

14. Trail Design and Sporting Facilities

  • Paths
  • Advantages and disadvantages of gravel and bark paths
  • Planting in Paving
  • Trails
  • Designing a Trail
  • Trail Types; environmental, fun and fitness, sensory, cryptic
  • Design of Sporting Facilities; slope, gradient, dimensions
  • Sports Courts

15. Tools and Machinery

  • Choosing the right tools
  • Manual Tools and Equipment
  • Rakes
  • Spades and Shovels
  • Wheelbarrows
  • Rollers
  • Sprayers
  • Tool Maintenance
  • Manual Handling
  • Power Tools
  • Safety and Maintenance with Power Tools
  • Chain Saws
  • Mulchers
  • Rotary Hoes
  • Tractors and tractor mounted equipment
  • Buying equipment

16. Plant Establishment Techniques

  • Timing
  • Soil preparation
  • Plant and pot size
  • Planting technique
  • Establishing Trees
  • Physical Plant Protection; staking, frost protection, protecting from animals, etc

17. Ponds and Pools

  • Types of Ponds; formal, informal
  • Position, water quality, depth etc.
  • Water effects
  • Finishing Touches
  • Planning a Water Garden
  • Alternative Types of construction
  • Aesthetic Affects
  • Plants for Water Gardens; oxygenating plants, deep water plants, edge plants etc.

18. Rockwork and Masonry

  • Building rock walls
  • Dry Stone Walls
  • Wet Walls
  • Retaining Walls
  • Concrete; mixing, reinforcing, rodding, etc
  • Rockeries
  • Making Artificial Rocks
  • Coloured Pebbles and Gravel

19. Lawn Construction Techniques

  • Common Turf varieties
  • Selecting Turf for lawns; what to grow where
  • Wild Flower Meadows
  • Turf Establishment
  • Soil Preparation, seeding, sodding, stolonising, plugging, etc
  • Mowing and Fertilising Turf

20. Irrigation Design and Installation

  • Planning an irrigation system
  • Micro irrigation
  • Sprinkler irrigation
  • Using a watering system
  • Automated Systems
  • Maintenance of Irrigation Systems

21. Bush Garden Design

  • Scope and Nature
  • Birds in a Garden; attracting, feeding, etc

22. Cottage Garden Design

  • Scope and Nature
  • Components
  • Paths and Fences in a Cottage Garden

23. Playground Design

  • Planning for Play
  • Playing at Home
  • Play Equipment; sand pit, cubbies, swings etc

24. Garden Bed Design

  • Making Garden Beds; size, shape, edges, topography, soil, surfacing, irrigation,
  • Raised Beds
  • Sunken Beds
  • No Dig Beds
  • Plant Application; trees, shrubs, ground cover
  • Aesthetic Criteria in Garden Bed Design , line, form, texture, colour, balance, repetition, etc
  • Procedure for Planting Design

25. Management

  • Scope and nature of Office Work
  • Office equipment; selection and use
  • Information Technology
  • Business Letters
  • The Law and Business
  • Work Scheduling

26. Land Rehabilitation

  • Soil Degradation
  • Earth Works Different types of equipment (Cat, Rotary Hoe, Dozer, etc)
  • Importing or Improving Soil
  • Plant Establishing Techniques (pocket planting, slope serration, wattling, etc)
  • Planting Arid Sites

27. Drainage

  • Scope and Nature of Drainage
  • Sub Surface or Surface Drainage
  • Types of Sub Surface Drains
  • Water Outlet

28. Maintenance

  • Maintenance Decisions
  • Making Compromises between costs and garden style
  • Construction decisions
  • Design for minimising pests
  • Using Timber in a Garden
  • Choosing a Timber
  • Managing Termites
  • Wood Preservatives
  • Keeping a Garden Clean
  • Garden Maintenance Equipment
  • Designing for Low Maintenance
  • Review of Garden Pests and Diseases

29. Dealing with Clients

  • Effective Communication Skills
  • Awareness
  • Reactive Patterns
  • Understanding Communication Processes
  • Introduction to Marketing
  • Making Contact with potential clients, communicating, then convincing
  • Writing an advertisement or promotion
  • Effective Selling
  • Cost and Clients
  • Garden Investments

30. Major Garden Design Project



  • Discuss the principles Garden Design.
  • Develop a foundation for systematic identification of plants and systematic determination of cultural requirements.
  • Develop an awareness of different styles of gardening, principally through the study of the history of gardening.
  • Develop the basic skills of landscape drawing as well as developing a basic understanding of contracts and specifications.
  • Identify soil conditions appropriate for a garden design.
  • Identify and properly account for environmental conditions within a garden design.
  • Determine earthworks required for a garden design.
  • Consider the relationship between design and construction when designing a garden.
  • Determine appropriate surfacing for different gardens
  • Determine appropriate garden structures for a garden.
  • Evaluate the functionality of a park design.
  • Evaluate the design of a home garden.
  • Develop an appreciation for the impact that design can have on the cost of a garden.
  • Discuss the functionality and design of surfaced areas in a garden or park, including paths, trails and sporting facilities.
  • Discuss the scope and nature of tools used to landscape gardens.
  • Discuss ways that plants may be better established.
  • Discuss the design of water gardens
  • Discuss the use of Rock, Stone, Brick and Concrete in garden designs.
  • Discuss the appropriate use of lawns in garden designs.
  • Discuss the appropriate use of irrigation in garden designs
  • Discuss the design of natural gardens.
  • Discuss the design of cottage gardens.
  • Discuss the design of children's play areas.
  • Discuss the design of garden beds.
  • Identify Management skills required to be a commercially viable garden designer.
  • Explain methods of rehabilitation of degraded landscapes.
  • Explain methods of dealing with drainage problems in a garden design
  • Discuss the relationship between garden design and maintenance.
  • Explain how a garden designer should successfully deal with clients.
  • Prepare a significant garden design.


Duration: 600 hours


The following are only some of the activities you may undertake in this course.

*Find a site to be landscaped. (It could be a park or home garden; it could be a new development or a redevelopment of an older garden). Visit the site and record pre planning information required to design the landscape.

*Find examples of the use of landscape principles. Using sketches and written descriptions, describe the way the garden has been laid out in order to achieve those particular effects.

*Find gardens which represent different styles. Submit a photograph or sketch plan of each along with a half page written description of the style of the garden. Explain any historical influences, including the influence of those who build to owned the garden. The gardens may be gardens you have actually visited, or can be gardens you have seen in a magazine or book.

*Copy the drawings of symbols (ie. drawings which show you how to represent plants, walls, rocks, etc. when you draw plans). Practice drawing these various components of a landscape.

*Using the pre-planning information collected, produce a design for that area. or part of that area.

*Take a sample of soil and attempt to name it using the test given.

*Obtain components of potting or soil mixes; make up different mixes and test their characteristics.

*Survey an area requiring earthmoving. Draw a plan of the area, to scale, showing the area to be excavated. Calculate the volume of earth to be removed. Calculate where it is to be put.

*Find, observe & report on some bad landscape construction work. (You might discuss a poor rockery, a wall which is falling over, or some playground equipment which is unsafe.)

*Find three examples of bad selection of surfaces in a landscape (ie. home garden, park, sports oval, tennis court or whatever). Describe the material used and explain why they are bad. Consider both the aesthetic and functional qualities of the surfacing.

*Develop a redevelopment plan for an existing park. Submit a photograph of the park as it exists at the moment (otherwise submit a rough sketch). Prepare a design for redevelopment in line with the suggested changes.

*Choose an established home garden (your own or a friends), and draw a sketch plan as the garden exists. Explain how well do you think this garden is designed?

Find another home garden, needing either a new design or redevelopment. Prepare four rough sketches showing the stages you would go through in designing or redesigning that particular garden.

*Develop a detailed explanation of how you prepared your costing in the set task. Show the various components of the costing and explain how and why you costed it this way rather than higher or lower.

*Design a trail. It can be any type of trail (fun & fitness, nature, history, etc.) and may be located anywhere (a street, park, home garden, etc).

*Find and visit some recently landscaped gardens. Visit up to three different properties. Take note of any problems with the maintenance. Consider what could have been done to prevent these problems occurring.

*Design a perennial border along the front wall of a brick house

*Prepare a plan for the establishment of a large number of trees in a degraded area. You should indicate clearly what the problem is and how you are going to use the trees to help rehabilitate the area.

*Design a water feature (eg. a pond or creek bed) for a bush or natural garden. Submit plans and a step by step description showing how you would construct such a water feature.

*Design a rockery area for a natural garden.

*Design a natural style garden using mainly ferns, for a small courtyard of specified dimensions.

What is Landscape Design?

A landscape consists of both living and non living things. These are the components of the landscape.

Examples of non living components might be rocks, gravel paths, timber, walls etc. These non living components can be looked on in two ways:

  • as the materials which they are made up of; and
  • as the structures or things which the materials are used to make.

The living components of the landscape are the plants (and perhaps the animals which inhabit it). A landscape is made good or bad by the way in which these components are both selected and are arranged together.

The landscape is constantly changing, and a good designer must foresee and account for changes which are likely to occur. Plants grow, flower and die. Wooden structures rot and metal ones rust. Earth can erode. The garden continually changes through the cycle of the season. A skilled landscape designer will not only be aware of, but will use these changes.


The basic principles of landscape design are those things which influence the way in which the components are used. For example, the over-riding principle in Chinese gardens is unity - between rocks, plants and water. For Le Notre, a famous 17th Century French designer, a very important principle was that of symmetry, while for Capability Brown, an influential 18th century English landscaper, the most important principle was for landscapes to be natural in appearance.

Ground form, structures and plants all need to be organised into a pleasing composition of spaces to satisfy the principles chosen by the designer with an emphasis to suit the client.




ACS was founded by John Mason in 1979 as Australian Horticultural Correspondence School.

Right from these very early times, we've always believed that the best education only comes when the student is learning from the experience of a whole range of industry experts (rather than just a single teacher).

Every ACS course is a work in progress, continually evolving, with new information being added and old information being updated by our team of internationally renowned professional horticulturists.

Over the decades more than 100 horticulture experts from across the world have contributed to these courses, bringing their individual knowledge and experiences from as wide afield as England and Spain to Australia and America.

While may colleges and universities focus on providing courses that relate only to the country where they are based, ACS has always strived to make it's courses relevant to all parts of the world; any climate, economic or cultural situation. This has been achieved by involving a large number of professionals in the course development.

When it comes to tutoring, marking papers and mentoring students, the team approach is just as strong as with our writing. ACS students have the ability to obtain advice and support from staff across the world, with horticulture tutors located in the UK, Australia (both the north and south) and New Zealand.

The ACS team approach and global focus to both course content and student support, ensures our graduates have a unique and "real world" skills set. This unique approach is highly regarded by our colleagues in horticulture.

Contributors to ACS Courses over the years have included:

John Mason -former parks director (Melton, Essendon and Heidelberg), Landscape Designer (Playgrounds and recreation Association of Victoria), Nurseryman, President Australian Institute of Horticulture (Victoria), Committee International Year of the Child (Australia), Author ove over 40 books, Editor Garden Guide Magazine, Editor Your Backyard Magazine.

Maggi Brown - Education officer, Henry Doubleday Research Association (UK), gold medal winner Chelsea Flower Show, Garden consultant.

Adriana Fraser - Horticultural Consultant, TAFE Lecturer, Project Manager - Parks and Gardens, Horticultural writer.


Iain Harrison -Garden Manager Fibremakers, Garden Consultant, Lecturer Swinburn TAFE

Katie Freeth - Manager Commonwealth War Graves (France), Horticultural Consultant (France & UK), Board member Institute of Horticulture, and International Federation Parks & Recreation Administration

Tony Bundock -Horticulture Businessman, Consultant, Head of Horticulture Dept. TAFE

Jim Davis -Horticulture Businessman, Lecturer TAFE (NSW), Principal VCAH Burnley College

Dr Lyn Morgan -author and internationally renowned hydroponics consultant (New Zealand)

Dr Valeria Astorga -horticultural consultant, lecturer (Spain, Peru, Australia)

Alison Bundock -Editor (Kangaroo Press; Southern Cross University), Technical Writer (APM), Consultant

Rosemary Davies -Horticultural concultant, journalist, media personality (Victoria)

Exams: There are four exams for the course; one after lesson 7, another after lesson 15; a third after lesson 22 and the final at the conclusion of the course. 

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ACS operates a student bookshop that supplies a range of horticulture texts to supplement our courses.
Many are written by the principal (well known gardening author John Mason), or other staff. All have been reviewed and approved by our academic experts (to be accurate and relevant to students studying our horticulture courses).
  • Student discounts are available to anyone studying with ACS Distance Education.
  • Both printed books and ebooks (as downloads) available
GARDEN DESIGN Part I  by John Mason (publisher ACS)  EBook
GARDEN DESIGN Part 2  by John Mason (publisher ACS)  EBook
THE ENVIRONMENT OF PLAY by John Mason 2nd edition (publisher: ACS)   Ebook
STARTING A GARDEN OR LANDSCAPE BUSINESS 2nd Edition  by John Mason  (publisher: ACS)  EBook 

Meet some of our academics

Adriana Fraser Adriana has worked in horticulture since the 1980's. She has lived what she preached; developing large gardens and always growing her own fruit, vegetables and herbs; and making her own preserves. In 1992 she formalised her training by graduating with a certificate in horticulture; and a few years later, completing an Advanced Diploma in Horticulture. Adriana has worked across a broad spectrum of the horticulture industry; and has developed a strong network of contacts in horticulture around Australia and beyond. She has written and contributed to many books and magazine articles; and at one stage managed the national collection of Thyme. She has a passion for plant knowledge and sustainability and an inert understanding of how people learn about horticulture. Adriana has been a tutor with ACS since the mid 90's and based on the feedback from past students has been an overwhelming success in helping people develop their skills and further careers in horticulture.
Gavin Cole Gavin started his career studying building and construction in the early 80's. Those experiences have provided a very solid foundation for his later work in landscaping. In 1988 he completed a B.Sc. and a few years later a Certificate in Garden Design. In the mid 90's he worked as a manager and garden designer with the well respected UK company -The Chelsea Gardener. A few years later he formed his own garden design business, at first in the UK, and later operating in Queensland Australia. He has since moved to, and works from Adelaide. Apart from his work in landscaping, Gavin has been a prolific garden writer and a tutor with ACS Distance Education since 2001. He is currently part of the team of garden experts that produce Home Grown magazine.
John Mason Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant. Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK. He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 70 books and editor for 4 different gardening magazines. John has been recognised by his peers being made a fellow of the Institute of Horticulture in the UK, as well as by the Australian Institute of Horticulture.
Martin Powdrill Martin is passionate about sustainability and permaculture. With a Masters Degree in Environmental Science, and a Permaculture Design Certificate, he has spent the past decade transforming his career from the corporate world, to become a permaculture designer and consultant. Practicing what he preaches, he has developed a property in Wales that is largely self sufficient. He conducts workshops, operates a B & B on his property, and has since 2008 worked as a tutor with ACS (in addition to being a consultant).

Check out our eBooks

Professional Practice for ConsultantsExplore becoming a consultant. This ebook contains chapters on how to be a consultant, packaging your services, delivering the services, building your resources, finding the work and getting the job, planning and ethics.
Starting a Gardening or Landscape BusinessExpert advice on how to get started in your own garden or landscape business! Packed with valuable business advice, horticultural and landscaping knowledge, and practical ideas - this book is a must have for garden lovers. It is great for anyone thinking about (or already involved in), a horticultural, landscaping or garden business. This updated re-print is only available as an ebook.
Garden Design Part 1This stunning full colour Garden Design ebook is full of useful tips, information and inspiration. It contains around 300 colour illustrations! It is comprised of three parts: Design, How a Garden Functions and Aesthetics (making it look good).
Getting Work in HorticultureFind out what it is like to work in horticulture; how diverse the industry is, how to get a start, and how to build a sustainable, long term and diverse career that keeps your options broad, so you can move from sector to sector as demand and fashion changes across your working life.