Covers both Permaculture and Horticulture. Learn much more than most permaculture certificates; and be better prepared for lifelong involvement in alternative and sustainable farming.

Course Code: VHT002
Fee Code: CT
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 700 hours
Qualification Certificate
Get started!

Advanced Permaculture Course for a Career in Sustainability

  • Extensive Permaculture and Sustainability Course
  • Go beyond the basic training offered in most other permaculture certificates (most are 72 hrs -this  is 600-700 hrs)
  • Explore you passion, extend your skills, start a business or seek employment in environmental or sustainable industries.

This course was recently revised to provide even more extensive and solid training for those who want to work in horticulture, especially in the design and care of productive natural garden systems. Graduates may find employment in general horticulture, permaculture design, or natural gardening (eg. in garden/system design, nurseries, teaching, consulting, etc). An excellent starting point for an exciting career in permaculture or sustainable gardening, and the skills you will learn will be valuable for any area of Horticulture too.


The Certificate in Horticulture (Permaculture) involves two areas of work:

  • Core Studies - half of the course, involving around least 350 hours.
  • Stream Studies - stream studies in permaculture and organic growing, involving at least 300 hours of study.

Core Studies

The core units develop fundamental general skills in horticultural practices and plant knowledge. The core units cover the following topics:

1. Introduction to Plants

2. Parts of the Plant

3. Plant Culture - Planting

4. Plant Culture - Pruning

5. Plant Culture - Irrigation and Machinery

6. Soils and Media

7. Soils and Nutrition

8. Seeds and Cuttings

9. Other Techniques

10. ID and Use of Plants - Landscape Application

11. ID and Use of Plants - Problems

12. ID and Use of Plants - Indoor/tropical plants

13. Pests

14. Diseases

15. Weeds

Stream Studies

These involve 300 hours of study, and are made up of the following modules:

  • Permaculture Systems
  • Advanced Permaculture

Plus one (1) of the following electives-

  • Poultry
  • Fruit and nut production
  • Organic Plant Culture
  • Sustainable Agriculture
  • Water Conservation and Management
  • Plant Ecology
  • OR some other approved module related to Permaculture.


Permaculture Systems

  • Explain the concepts of natural systems of relevance to Permaculture.
  • Determine appropriate cultural techniques to use in a Permaculture system.
  • Explain the incorporation of different animals in a Permaculture system.
  • Determine appropriate plants for inclusion in a Permaculture system.
  • Select appropriate technologies for use in Permaculture systems.
  • Draw concept Permaculture plans to scale.

Advanced Permaculture

  • Evaluate appropriate design strategies for a specific development site.
  • Explain the relationship between a Permaculture system and natural patterns occurring in a local area.
  • Develop strategies for the management of water in a Permaculture design.
  • Determine earthworks for the development of a Permaculture system.
  • Design a Permaculture system for the humid tropics.
  • Design a Permaculture system for a dry climate.
  • Design a Permaculture system for a temperate to cold climate.
  • Determine planning strategies for the development of a Permaculture system.
  • Prepare cost estimates for a Permaculture development plan.
  • Explain alternative sustainable systems practiced in various places around the world.


  • Develop a good understanding of the scientific system of naming plants.
  • Discuss some of the aspects which play a part in permaculture.
  • Describe how permaculture is different to other forms of horticulture and agriculture.
  • Visit an outdoor environment area determine what relationships the living and non‑living things might have with each other.
  • Explain contour maps and how this information can be used to estimate potential effects on plant growth.
  • Explain weather patterns in your local area. Determine why this knowledge may be important to the permaculture practitionist.
  • Explain water within an ecosystem or permaculture garden and its application.
  • Describe the differences between the three main types of climate zones (ie: Tropical, Temperate and Desert); and briefly give your views on what major differences would need to be taken in establishing a permaculture system in each climate zone, compared with the other two.
  • Explain the importance of trees in a permaculture system.
  • Describe how you would build a no dig garden approximately 10 X 3 metres in size.
  • Step by step work through a process of planning changes to a garden to make it into more of a permaculture system.
  • Collect and list pre-planning information relevant to developing home into a permaculture system
  • Write a report explaining the five permaculture zones.
  • Create a table listing 50 different pest, disease and weed problems in one column, and an appropriate natural control method for each one in an adjacent column.
  • Make a list of companion plants. In one column, list the herb or companion plant.
  • Draw a plan for a fruit or vegetable garden which incorporates companion planting.
  • Explain briefly each of the companion planting interrelationships you have included in your plan.
  • Design a small and simple water garden for use in a permaculture system.
  • Design and build an herb spiral.
  • Design a vegetable and herb garden based on permaculture principles which would produce enough food to feed you and your family for the entire year.
  • List as many different central features as you can think of which could be used in a Mandalla garden
  • Outline how to plan and prepare garden zones in relation to animals. Provide step-by-step instructions and accompanying photographs or drawings.
  • Contact your state department of Agriculture and obtain leaflets relating to poultry which you are particularly interested in keeping.
  • Contact your state department of Agriculture and obtain leaflets (and any other publications) relating to bee keeping.
  • In no less than 500 words explain the importance of bees to horticulture and the permaculture garden.
  • Develop a 5 year plan for developing a one hectare permaculture farm utilising plants, animals and fish (aquaculture). Use drawings and diagrams where needed to assist in this report.
  • Select three different aquatic animals which would be appropriate to grow in a permaculture system. For each one in turn, explain how you would incorporate it into a permaculture system.
  • Go to nurseries and agricultural supply companies and inquire about environmentally safe pesticides. Write a report on these products.
  • Observe the construction process of a building or structure that involves some type of earthworks (eg, roads, dams, etc).
  • Take a photograph of your home or residence. Discuss your residence in relation to designing with consideration to the environment (eg. does it efficiently utilize sun and shade, is it energy efficient).
  • Describe the importance of house design in relation to location, eg. tropical region of Queensland or west coast of Tasmania.
  • Contact the local council or health department and inquire about allowable use of waste material in your area. Consider asking about grey water, septic tanks, use of effluent and animal wastes, etc. Write a report to 250 words on the task.
  • Contact and obtain information on composting toilets from a manufacturer. Compile this information and use it as a personal reference.
  • Contact a supplier of windmills and find out all that you can about the use of these devices for supplying water (ie. pumping from a river, lake, dam, ground water etc). Discover the alternatives available, the costs involved, the applications, operation etc.
  • Contact the National Parks and Wildlife department and obtain as much information as possible on wildlife corridors, conservation, etc. Contact your local council department and inquire about their wildlife corridors, etc. Are they similar or drastically different? Can you think of a reason why there may be a difference?
  • For a month period, write down all tasks performed by yourself and anyone who enters your permaculture garden. Submit this work schedule plus a brief report on how it may be possible to improve the time efficiency in the garden.
  • Write a report on where you think 'alternative' permaculture is heading in terms of main-stream acceptance.

DURATION: 650 - 700 hours

Graduates may find employment in either general horticulture fields, offering a Permaculture perspective to the industry. Or areas servicing Permaculture or natural gradening systems Eg Natural garden design, plant nurseries, teaching, and consulting to inspire the use of Permaculture and natural gardening systems.


What is Permaculture?
In its strictest sense, permaculture is a system of production based on perennial, or self perpetuating, plant and animal species which are useful to people. In a broader context, permaculture is a philosophy which encompasses the establishment of environments which are highly productive and stable, and which provide food, shelter, energy, etc., as well as supportive social and economic infrastructures. In comparison to modern farming techniques practised in Western civilisations, the key elements of permaculture are low energy and high diversity inputs. The design of the landscape, whether on a suburban block or a large farm, is based on these elements.
A permaculture system can be developed on virtually any type of site, though the plants selected and used will be restricted by the site's suitability to the needs of the varieties used. Establishing a permaculture system requires a reasonable amount of pre-planning and designing. Factors such as climate, land form, soils, existing vegetation and water availability need to be considered. Observing patterns in the natural environment can give clues to matters which may become a problem later, or which may be beneficial.
A well designed permaculture farm will fulfil the following criteria:
  • Upon maturity it forms a balanced, self-sustaining ecosystem where the relationships between the different plants and animals do not compete strongly to the detriment on each other. The farm does not change a great deal from year to year, but it does none the less still continue to change.
  • It replenishes itself. The plants and animals in the farm feed each other, with perhaps only minimal feed (eg. natural fertilisers) needing to be introduced from the outside.
  • Minimal, if any, work is required to maintain the farm once it is established. Weeds, diseases and pests are minimal due to companion planting and other natural effects which parts of the ecosystem have on each other.
  • It is productive. Food or other useful produce can be harvested from the farm on an ongoing basis.
  • It is intensive land use. A lot is achieved from a small area. A common design format used is the Mandala Garden, based on a series of circles within each other, with very few pathways and easy, efficient watering.
  • There is a diverse variety of plant types used. This spreads cropping over the whole year so that there is no time when a "lot" is being taken out of the system. This also means that the nutrients extracted (which are different for each different type of plant or animal) are "evened out". (ie. one plant takes more iron, while the plant next to it takes less iron, so iron doesn't get depleted because all of the plants have a high demand for iron). The diversity of species act as a buffer, one to another.
  • It can adapt to different slopes, soil types and other microclimates.
  • It develops through an evolutionary process changing rapidly at first but then gradually over a long period perhaps never becoming totally stable. The biggest challenge for the designer is to foresee these ongoing long term changes.
Structure of a Permaculture System
  • Large trees dominate the system. The trees used will affect everything else they create shade, reduce temperature fluctuations below (create insulation), reduce light intensities below; reduce water loss from the ground surface, act as a wind barrier, etc.
  • In any system, there should also be areas without large trees.
  • The "edge" between a treed and non-treed area will have a different environment to the areas with and without trees. These "edges" provide conditions for growing things which won't grow fully in the open or in the treed area. The north edge of a treed area (in the southern hemisphere) is sunny but sheltered while the south edge is cold but still sheltered more than in the open. "Edges' are an example of microclimates, small areas within a larger site that have special conditions which favour certain species which will grow well elsewhere (see also the section on Corridor Planting in Managing Plants 11 Chapter for more information on "Edge" effects).
  • Pioneer plants are used initially in a permaculture system to provide vegetation and aid the development of other plants which take much longer to establish. For example, many legumes grow fast and fix nitrogen (raise nitrogen levels in the soil) and thus increase nutrients available to nut trees growing beside them. Over time the nuts will become firmly established and the legumes will die out. Pioneer plants are frequently short lived (but not always).
The concept of Permaculture was originally developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, Australia.



No course will guarantee you a job - but choosing the right one will certainly help!

Not all courses are equal - some tend to focus on just getting you to the end, rather than helping you to learn.

The fundamental aim of a 'good education' depends very much on three processes:

  1. Gathering knowledge - what you learn.
  2. Retaining knowledge - how you learn and store it.
  3. Recalling knowledge – recollecting what you have learned, even years later.

Choosing what you learn: Education should be broad as this develops your knowledge and skills. When choosing an industry such as horticulture it is always best to learn the basic fundamentals first i.e. the core skills needed to work in the industry in general, that way you can move across inter-industry sectors if needed. The core units for a Certificate in Horticulture (for example) will give you good basic industry skills that can equally apply to nursery work such as permaculture or other inter-industry sectors. Once you have these skills, your future prospects for employment are far brighter as you are a value to the industry in general, rather than to just a single industry sector.

Retaining knowledge: There are keys to retaining knowledge – most of us will only store knowledge in short term memory the ‘if you don’t use it you will lose it scenario’. As educators we have found at ACS that the best system for storing knowledge is to really know your subject. This may sound obvious but many courses just teach the facts. When students are set problems to solve and practical set tasks, like we do at ACS, rather than just reading and regurgitating facts and figures from text books, they are much more likely to gather pertinent knowledge and retain that knowledge.

Recalling what you have learned: there is a difference between retaining what you have learned to short term memory and recalling what you have learned years later. Undertaking problem solving tasks and projects are much more likely way to commit information to long term memory. We consider that, along with a passion for what they are studying, to be the key reason our students do so well in their courses, our courses are based on a Problem Based Learning system. Problem based assignments and practical set tasks mean that students have to work at finding solutions and developing skills. These may come from various sources - in the process they gather knowledge through experiential learning, which is more likely to be retained in long term memory.  

So although a course and qualification won’t necessarily get you a job – choosing the right course and learning the right things will certainly help

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Diana Cole

Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Permaculture Design Certificate, B.A. (Hons)-Geography, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development
Diana has been an enthusiastic volunteer with community garden and land conservation projects sinc

Maggi Brown

Maggi is the classic UK "plantswoman". She can identify thousands of plants, and maintains her own homes and gardens in the Cotswolds (England), and near Beziers (in Southern France). Maggi is regarded as a leading organics expert across the UK, having w

John Mason (Horticulturist)

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 edito

Need Help?

Take advantage of our personalised, expert course counselling service to ensure you're making the best course choices for your situation.

I agree for ACS Distance Education to contact me and store my information until I revoke my approval. For more info, view our privacy policy.