PRINCIPLES OF GARDEN PLANNING, ESTABLISHMENT & MAINTENANCE online course. Improve employment or business prospects in professional horticulture.

Course Code: VHT039
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 150 hours
Qualification Certificate
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Foundation Certificate in Residential Garden Planning and Care Level 2

This course provides a route to employment in professional horticulture by assessing knowledge of the scientific principles and underpinning horticultural practices, and supports career development for those already working in the profession. It also provides a foundation for further learning or training in the field of horticulture. There are no prerequisites required for entry into this course.
There are 10 lessons, spread across 4 units:
  • Unit 1 – Garden features, plant selection and planning.
  • Unit 2 – The choice, establishment and maintenance of garden plants and lawns.
  • Unit 3 – The production of outdoor vegetables and fruit.
  • Unit 4 – Protected environments and their use in plant cultivation.



There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Principles of Garden Design
    • Introduction
    • Landscape Principles (Unity, Balance, Proportion, Harmony, Contrast, Rhythm)
    • Design Elements (Line, Form, Mass, Space, Texture, Colour, Tone)
    • Landscape Effects
    • Colour in Garden Design
    • Formal Gardens
    • Informal Gardens
    • Cottage Gardens
    • Minimalist Gardens
    • Natural Landscapes
    • Oriental Gardens
    • Mediterranean Gardens
    • Tropical Gardens
    • Plant Identification, Culture and Use -Reviewing a range of plants
  2. Conducting Garden Surveys and Planning
    • Appraising a Site and Collecting Data for Planning
    • Components of the Pre Planning Phase
    • Use of Hard Garden Features and Hard Surfaces
    • Scale for Landscape Plans
    • Triangulation
    • Surveying Slope
    • Direct Contouring
    • The Grid System
    • Levelling Terminology and Procedure
    • The site Plan
    • Concept Plan
    • Final Plan
    • Other Plans
    • Design Procedure
    • Landscape Graphics
    • Putting Pen to Paper
    • Lettering and Graphics
  3. Use of Hard Landscaping Features
    • Hard and Soft Landscaping
    • Surfaces in the Garden
    • Paving
    • Using Pebbles
    • Rockeries
    • Mulching and Erosion Matting
    • Barriers and Walls
    • Trellis
    • Types of Fencing
    • Patios
    • Seating
    • Garden Structures
    • Garden Art, Features and Furnishings
    • Pools, Ponds and Water Gardens
    • Environmental Sustainability
  4. Use of Soft Garden Features
    • Choosing Plants
    • Purchasing Plants
    • Trees in the Landscape (Deciduous, Semi Deciduous, Evergreen)
    • Shrubs
    • Perennials and Herbs
    • Types of Herb Gardens
    • Wildflower Meadows
    • Perennial Displays
    • Annuals
    • Flower Bed Design
    • Cottage Gardens
    • Scented Plants
    • Climbers and Growing plants on Trellis
    • Lawns and Turf varieties
  5. Plant Establishment and Maintenance
    • Plants in the Landscape
    • Plant Selection
    • Environmental Factors
    • Improving Environmental Conditions
    • Selecting the Right Plant
    • Which Plant to Buy
    • Understanding Soils and Fertility
    • Plant Nutrition
    • Preparing a Garden
    • Transplanting Techniques
    • Fertilising and Staking
    • Planting Bare Rooted Plants
    • Time of Planting
    • Planting Mistakes to Avoid
    • Gardening in Dry Areas
    • Colourful Year Round Foliage
    • Establishing Annual and Herbaceous Plants
    • Seed
    • Selecting Herbaceous Plants and Bulbs
    • Dividing and Separating Perennials
    • Herbaceous Borders
    • Maximising Flower Displays
    • Selecting Woody Plants
    • Trees and Tree Health
    • Selecting Flowering Shrubs
    • Hedges
    • Climbers
    • Water Plants and Pond Management
    • Plant Health
    • Weed Management
  6. Pruning
    • What, Where and Why Prune
    • Removing Dead and Diseased Wood
    • Controlling Type of Growth
    • Distinguishing between Bud Types
    • Controlling Shape and Size
    • Pruning to Rejuvenate a Plant
    • Winter Pruning
    • How to Prune
    • Pruning Different Specific Plant Genera
    • Espaliers
    • Dead Heading
    • Tree Pruning
    • Stopping, Disbudding, Root Pruning, Dead heading etc.
  7. Lawns; Establishment and Maintenance
    • Turf Establishment
    • Soil Preparation
    • Seeding, Stolonising, Sodding, Sprigging, Plugging
    • Mowers and Mowing Turf
    • Fertilising Turf
    • Renovation: aeration, scarification, top dressing etc
  8. Outdoor Food Production; Vegetables
    • Introduction to Growing Outdoor Food Crops
    • Growing Techniques for Vegetables
    • Planning a Crop
    • Starting a Vegetable Garden
    • Managing the Crop (Weed Control, Pests, Water etc)
    • Special Techniques: No Dig, Green Manure, Cover Crops, Compost etc)
    • Sustainable Cultivation Techniques
    • Planting Techniques
    • Review of major Vegetable Crops
    • Managing Water and Irrigation
  9. Outdoor Food Production; Fruit
    • Choosing a Site and Establishing an Orchard
    • Location, Climate, Rainfall and other Site Considerations
    • Deciding what to Grow
    • Scope of Fruit Growing
    • Pest and Disease Management on Fruit -Chemical and Non Chemical
    • Environmental Problems and their Management
    • Pruning Fruit Trees
    • Pollination
    • Review of Significant types of Fruits, Berries and Citrus
    • Developing a Production Plan
  10. Protected Cultivation
    • Introduction to Protected Growing
    • Types of Growing Structures
    • Factors Affecting Light Transmission in Growing Structures
    • Management of Greenhouses: Benches, Hygiene, Watering, Temperature Control etc
    • Shade Houses
    • Computerised Environmental Control
    • Heating Systems
    • Controlling Light
    • Irrigation & Nutrition Control
    • Feeding Plants
    • Pest and Disease Control in Greenhouses
    • Containers for Growing in
    • Potting Media
    • Indoor Plants and their Management

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Develop an understanding of: design principles and how to apply them; basic surveying; garden features, plant selection; garden planning.
  • Develop an understanding of plant selection, establishment and maintenance of a range of ornamental plants and lawns.
  • Develop an understanding of basic cultural operations and production methods for outdoor vegetable and fruit crops.
  • Develop an understanding of: environmental controls, uses and appropriate applications of greenhouses and other protected plant growing structures; the production of a range of plants in protected structures and the care of plants in the house and conservatory.

What is the Cost of Garden Maintenance?

Garden maintenance can be costly. If you need to employ a gardener, it will cost you money; and if you don’t it will cost you time. Choices you make about the sort of garden you have will affect how much cost is involved.
The Cost of Maintenance
Here are some of the garden jobs that can cost both time and money: 
  • tidying up – removing fallen leaves and branches, cleaning gutters, mowing and edging
  • mowing and edging
  • weed control
  • fertilizing and mulching
  • pruning
  • replanting
  • repotting
  • maintaining the vegetable garden
  • pool/water garden maintenance
  • garden projects – paving, fencing, building outdoor features…or any other construction job that’s best done in cool weather
What Costs?
Maintenance costs fall into three main categories:
1/ Tools and equipment
  • If you use them all the time, buy them.
  • If you use them rarely, borrow or hire them.
  • Employ a gardener who has his own tools. Consider…If you buy a lawn mower, leaf blower, power hedge shears, chainsaw, secateurs, loppers, barrow, spade, shovel, whipper snipper, etc your cost can be considerable.
  • If you hire a gardener, who has all of these tools, you might not need to buy hardly any of these things, and you won’t need to worry about and take care of their maintenance.
2/ Manpower
How much is your time worth to you? It may be cheaper to hire a gardener than do it yourself. But if you are stressed and suffering from a lack of exercise, working in your garden each week can have massive health benefits. Many people find that a few hours in the garden can make them much more productive when they are in the office.
3/ Materials
Once the garden is established, you may think the cost of materials is minimal. But over several years, the cost of replacement materials mounts up. Here are just some examples of things that need to be purchased to keep the garden looking good:
  • Plants – replacement costs
  • Fertiliser
  • Potting mix
  • Pots – when plants outgrow their existing pots
  • Mulch to top up beds
  • Gravel to top up paths
  • Pesticides/Weedicides
  • Petrol/oil for machinery
Machines are notoriously expensive to maintain - particularly if you are not mechanically minded.
Petrol engines develop clogged spark plugs and blocked fuel lines – making them difficult to start.
Chainsaw blades will be blunted the first day you use them and need sharpening.
Lawns may seem inexpensive but they’re not! Don’t underestimate the cost of having a lawn – they’re great to sit on, look at and play on but the size of your lawn should be determined by the amount of money and time you have to spend on its upkeep.
Lawns need ongoing maintenance otherwise they quickly deteriorate. If you want a lawn to look lush and green, you need to fertilise it several times a year, and remove weeds almost every week in the growing season; not to mention aerating the surface perhaps annually and watering whenever the weather is dry.
Maintaining tidy lawn edges is time consuming but necessary. A clean edge to the lawn prevents grasses spreading into adjacent garden beds and becoming a major weed problem.
Grass trimmers and edging machines do the job quickly but like all machinery require maintenance to keep them in good condition.
Container Plants
With the right care, hanging baskets, indoor plants and tub plants are highly attractive - but to look good, they do require a lot of maintenance. They need regular watering, occasional feeding and repotting every year or so. In addition you need to consider the cost of new larger pots, replacement plants, fresh potting mix and fertilisers.
You can keep the costs down by using plastic pots and choosing hardy plants that grow well in containers but don’t skimp on potting mix – quality potting mixes do cost more but in the long run give much better results. You can re use plastic pots, but scrub them with bleach or horticultural disinfectant to prevent the spread of disease.
Annual Flower Beds
Beds of flowering annuals are colourful and fast-growing but they are only temporary, lasting for only a few short months each year. To get the most out of annuals, you need to give them high quality soil, and regular watering and feeding. They may also need staking and deadheading to prolong the display. It’s also important to keep an eye out for pests and diseases, which can wipe out the whole bed very quickly.
To reduce costs, grow them from seed instead of buying punnets and plant them in pockets amongst hardy perennial plants as quick, colourful fillers.
Vegetable and Fruit Gardens
A long-term vegetable and fruit garden can save you money but you need to put in a lot of time and effort to get good results.
You should be realistic about how much money you’re saving. Apart from tools, you need to spend money on plants, fertilisers, stakes, mulch/manure, bird netting and pesticides. The end result could be a spectacular harvest…just at the same time as the produce is at a dirt-cheap price at the supermarket.
Also consider how long it takes for many fruit and nut trees to start bearing decent crops. Are you prepared to wait for up to five or more years, while still having to water, fertilise and prune the tree until it starts bearing?
Some shortcuts:
  • Fertilisers – make your own compost; grow a worm farm; collect free manure from stables
  • Pest control – companion planting, home-made sprays, rotating crops, choosing hardy crops
  • Swapping produce with neighbours – liaise with them before planting to avoid planting the same crops
  • Grafted fruit trees – expensive initially but give better, more reliable crops in less time
Water Gardens
A well-maintained water garden is an asset to every garden but unless you have time to spend on its upkeep, you should stick to a very simple water feature. Some ongoing maintenance requirements are cleaning and weeding (keeping the pond free of algae, water weeds and floating debris), feeding fish and keeping the pump in good order.
Dense Shrubberies
Compared to other gardens, a dense shrubbery planted with hardy, low maintenance plants requires less weeding, watering and pruning. The key is to choose the right plants including hardy groundcovers, and to put them close together to exclude weeds.
Informal Woodland or Bush Gardens
The beauty of these gardens is not so much that they don’t require watering, pruning and fertilising because they do (but generally to a much lesser extent), but that it doesn’t matter if leaves and twigs litter the garden and if the garden takes on a slightly wild, unkempt appearance.
Low Maintenance Ground Covers
There are many low maintenance ground covers that don’t require the continuous mowing and fertilising that a lawn does. Think about Dichondra, Ivy and Commelina – these are low maintenance species, and unlike most grasses, they will grow in heavy shade.
Paved Areas
These may be expensive to construct but if done properly, maintenance costs are low. Drainage is a primary concern here, as damp paving can encourage algal growth which is unsightly and can be slippery.


For the property owner, this course will improve your ability to redevelop your garden so that it can be maintained more easily; as well as giving you the critical awareness of how to better go about maintaining your property.
For others, this course provides an excellent foundation for starting a career or small business in gardening; or for ongoing learning, whether formal or informal. You never stop learning, as long as you remain active in horticulture. The important thing is to make sure you are building your learning experiences on a solid foundation; and this course is as solid a foundation as any you will ever find.  

Course Contributors

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

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

Rosemary Davies (Horticulturist)

Rosemary trained in Horticulture at Melbourne Universities Burnley campus; studying all aspects of horticulture -vegetable and fruit production, landscaping, amenity, turf, aboriculture and the horticultural sciences.
Initially she worked with the Depart

Bob James (Horticulturist)

Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

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