Design a natural garden.
What is a natural Garden? A natural garden is one that most closely imitates a natural, sustainable ecosystem.
Natural garden design is a developing niche in the landscape design industry.
Landscape designers need to expand their skills to incorporate the essentials of natural garden design in order to be competitive or to capitalize on this niche market.
Enthusiastic gardeners can also benefit from this course.


Today many clients are turning to natural gardens as a way to reduce maintenance and also water usage (with so many countries experiencing record low rainfall in the recent past few years). Natural gardens are also seen as a sustainable form of gardening, as inputs (once established) should be vastly lower then many other garden styles.

Over ten lessons this course helps you to develop your understanding of how natural environments work, and the concepts of natural garden design. Know how to produce concept and detailed innovative plans for low maintenance natural gardens (eg. woodland gardens, desert gardens, wild gardens, indigenous plant gardens, etc.) using indigenous plants or a mixture of indigenous and other plants) plus suitable landscape features.


Learn to Design Natural Gardens

  • Low Maintenance Landscapes
  • Bush Gardens
  • Woodlands, Meadows, Xeriscapes and more 


There are 8 lessons in this course as follows:

1. Introduction to Natural Gardens.

2. History of Natural Gardens

3. Developing Concept Plans

4. Plants for Natural Gardens

5. Planting Design in Natural Gardens

6. Natural Garden Features

7. Natural Gardens Today

8. Bringing It All Together.



On completion of the course you should be able to do the following:

  • Explain the concept of natural gardens.
  • Prepare concept plans for different natural gardens.
  • Plan the incorporation of appropriate plants into a natural garden design.
  • Plan the appropriate incorporation of non-living landscape features in a natural garden.
  • Produce detailed plans for a natural garden.


Here are just some of the things you may be doing:

  • Explain the historical development of natural garden design, in your locality.
  • Analyse plant inter-relationships within a specific natural environment (e.g. an area of bushland).
  • Analyse the design of three natural gardens, in an essay illustrated with photographs or sketches.
  • Explain, using illustrations, concepts of landscape design, showing their relevance to natural garden design, including: *Unity *Balance *Proportion *Harmony *Contrast *Rhythm *Line *Form *Mass *Space *Texture *Colour *Tone.
  • Develop three alternative natural garden concept plans for the same specified site.
  • Collect pre-planning information for a site for a proposed natural garden, by conducting a site survey, and interviewing a prospective client.
  • Explain, through a sequence of illustrations, a logical process of developing a design for a natural garden, on a specific site surveyed by you.
  • Prepare concept plans for two small natural gardens, including: *A rainforest garden *A sclerophyll garden.
  • List fifty different plants suitable for use in a natural garden design, of a specific style on a specified site, in your locality.
  • Explain compatibility considerations, when selecting different plants to include in the same natural garden design.
  • Develop a nursery customer information sheet, to provide guidelines for planting design of a natural garden.
  • Prepare a plant collection of fifty relevant plants, which includes: *A photo, drawing or pressed specimen of each plant *Plant names (scientific and common) *Cultural details *Uses/applications in garden design.
  • Prepare planting designs for three different styles of low maintenance garden beds, between 30 and 60 square meters each in size, and using only Australian Native plants.
  • Explain design options for six different landscape features in a natural garden, including: *Rockeries *Patios *Water features *Paths.
  • Describe the characteristics, including: *Cost *Availability *Longevity *Appearance *Maintenance, of ten different landscape materials, suited for use in a natural garden design.
  • Design a water feature for a natural garden, incorporating: *Concept drawings *Materials list *Cost estimates *Guidelines for construction.
  • Explain, using illustrations, the structural design of a masonry garden wall.
  • Explain, using illustrations, different appropriate applications for timber structures in a natural garden design.
  • Prepare plans, including structural diagrams and materials lists, for the construction of three different landscape features, which are appropriate for inclusion in a natural garden.
  • Develop a design "Brief" for a natural garden, in consultation with a client, through an interview and site inspection.
  • Design a natural garden of 200 to 500 square metres, including: *A landscape plan drawn on tracing paper *Materials specifications, including types and quantities, to suit a site surveyed by you, and emphasising one type of plant, such as ferns, wildflowers or sclerophyll type plants.
  • Prepare a detailed professional standard plan for a natural garden of 500 to 2000 square metres, to an acceptable industry standard for a professional garden designer, which includes: *A landscape plan drawn on tracing paper *Materials specifications, including types and quantities.
  • Explain the purpose behind decisions made by you in a natural garden designed by you.


Natural gardens are extremely variable. They include both open sunny spaces and dark enclosed places. They can be wet or dry; and colourful or monotone. Often they mimic nature in the places where they are created. Natural gardens in Australia may be an attempt to recreate the Australian bush; and in tropical Asia, they may be a copy of the tropical rainforest.  Here are just a few types, to wet your appetite:

Meadow gardens
This type of garden encompasses any garden that is modeled on an open field or area of relatively even ground covered by low growing plants. The English call it a meadow garden. In Canada, it may be called a Prairie garden, in some places a field: even a grassland garden might be thought of as a meadow. The name is not as important as the concept and how it is designed and managed.
Don’t get diverted by semantics (i.e. worrying about what to call it).

One way to create a meadow effect can be created by planting large quantities of bulbs in the lawn, and allowing them to naturalise. This works best in cool areas with reasonably fertile, well-drained soil; otherwise the bulbs will quickly rot or dry out. You won’t be able to mow the lawn for several months - from early winter when the leaves emerge to early summer when the leaves die back - so you’ll need to choose a low-use area which can be left to go slightly wild. Daffodils, jonquils, freesias and sparaxis are the best bulbs for naturalising in lawns. 

Woodland gardens
The dominant plants in a woodland garden are trees. They affect everything else that grows there. The number and types of trees are important; if they are deciduous there will be increased light below the canopy, and perhaps less protection from cold during winter. If the trees are evergreen, the garden will be shaded throughout the entire year. The height of tree species, density of foliage, spacing, competitiveness of root systems and likelihood to drop litter and branches are all factors to consider.
Woodland gardens can start one of two ways. Either they are created in a location where trees already exist; or in a location where trees need to be established.

If you already have trees; what you have may restrict the type of garden that can be grown below the tree. If you need to establish trees, some or all of the below canopy plantings may need to be delayed until a canopy has begun to form (Alternatively you may need to provide temporary shade over plants for a few years until taller plants are beginning to establish.

Woodland gardens generally consist of three or more layers. The trees or tallest plants form the top layer. Tall and medium shrubs form a second layer. Low plants (e.g. ground cover, bulbs, perennials form the bottom layer). Lawn can be difficult to grow in a woodland garden (apart from patches at the side or in the centre); but many low growing plants are shade loving and can thrive in poorly lit conditions.

In cool climates, bulbs can be planted under deciduous trees and left to naturalise as a groundcover. Popular choices include: daffodils, cyclamens, crocuses, snowflakes (Leucojum), sparaxis, freesias and bluebells.

Desert gardens
Desert gardens are gardens that recreate the affect of a desert. Deserts occur in many different parts of the world, and the mix of plant species that occur will differ from place to place

Typically we think of cacti for a desert garden; and these plants can be used to create some stunning architectural affects in gardens; but cacti only occur in American deserts.  

A desert garden may be an attempt to copy the natural appearance of a particular region (a purist approach); or alternatively an eclectic approach selecting and using plant species from any country that share one thing in common –their suitability to being grown in desert like conditions.

If you are attempting to create a desert garden in an area that has higher rainfall, it may be important to create very well drained conditions for plants to keep roots from rotting. A sloping site is a good start, well drained soil (usually very sandy) should be mounded, and plant species that are more susceptible to root rots (e.g. many of the cacti) in the best drained places. Cover pathways and garden beds with sand or gravel mulch. Features to include are a dry creek bed, or perhaps even a small pool or oasis. Stunted/smaller/gnarled trees will also create the appearance of an arid landscape. If paving is to be included, it should blend in to the garden and complement the colours of a desert landscape.  

Contrary to popular belief, many areas we think of as plant less deserts are in fact filled with different types of vegetation. Although these plants have been toughened by the dry conditions, they can still be used to create a very ornamental garden.  They include:
Tussock grass clumps
Cacti (naturally occur in North, South and Central America)
Desert succulents
Annual flowers - many appear in deserts after rain, quickly go through their lifecycle and leave seed behind to germinate when soil is again moist (e.g. desert daisies)
Natives of inland Australia (e.g. Mallee eucalypts, certain Acacias, Banksias)
Some desert plants are more adaptable to wet soils than others. Certain species occur naturally along water courses in a desert (e.g. willows and certain grasses in North American deserts).

Some species of cactus are more tolerant of wet soils than others and can give a garden a desert look (and provide magnificent brightly-coloured flowers).  Succulents of various types provide the opportunity to include a fabulous array of plant shapes, sizes and textures.  Because of their architectural shapes, these plants suit both a semi formal or informal garden design styles.