Want to Design Gardens?

Want to set up a small part time business and grow it into something full time and profitable?

This course has done just that for hundreds of others before you.

 Be a garden designer!
  • Developed by a team of successful garden designers from both Australia and the UK.
  • Broader than other courses which are developed and sometimes focussed on just one country.
  • Access experienced and qualified tutors in both the UK and Australia.

This course has operated for many years (with regular updates) as an effective training program for people working, or wishing to work, in the landscape industry; either in their own business, or at a supervisory level for for a boss.

The course develops the students design skills, as well as basic knowledge in other areas of concern to the landscaper (e.g. horticultural practices, management, plant identification and use, and marketing). On completion of this course the student should be able to draw landscape plans, compile specifications, and prepare cost estimates. There are thirty lessons taking around 600 to 700 hours to complete.

Exams: There are two exams for the course; one after lesson 15, and the second one at the conclusion of the course. Exams are arranged at a time and location to suit you. Please note additional fees apply for each exam.

If you want to become a Garden Designer; this is an ideal course!

Learning garden design involves recognising that a landscape consists of both living and non living things (ie. the components); and that design is all about arranging those components together in a sensible way; so as to achieve pre conceived affects.

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.

Course Structure and Content

There are thirty (30) lessons are outlined as follows:

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 5. Soils and Nutrition
Importance of Soil; Soil Composition, Texture, Horizons; Naming a Soil; Improving Soils; Landscape Supplies; Terminology.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 8. Basic Landscape Construction
Specifications and Contracts; Contract Terminology; Drainage and Erosion; Walling; Rockeries; Steps; Types of Playgrounds; Making Stable Mounds.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 11. Park Design
User Friendly Gardens (seating, shelter, fragrant plants, etc.); Recreational Landscaping; Park Design Criteria; Playgrounds; Making Community Participation Work.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 13. Costing and Specifications
Buying Plants: What To Look For; Cost of Garden Maintenance; Expensive Areas in Gardens (lawns, containers, annuals, vegetables etc.); Less Expensive to Maintain Areas (shrubberies, paving, natural bush areas etc.); Costing Jobs; The Market for Landscape Contractors (government sector, developers, commercial sector, private sector).

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.).

Lesson 17. Ponds and Pools
Types of Ponds; 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.).

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 20. Irrigation Design and Installation
Planning an Irrigation System; Micro Irrigation; Sprinkler Irrigation; Using a Watering System; Automated Systems; Maintenance of Irrigation Systems.

Lesson 21. Bush Garden Design
Scope and Nature; Birds in a Garden (attracting, feeding, etc.).

Lesson 22. Cottage Garden Design
Scope and Nature; Components; Paths and Fences in a Cottage Garden.

Lesson 23. Playground Design
Planning for Play; Playing at Home; Play Equipment (sand pit, cubbies, swings etc.).

Lesson 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.

Lesson 25. Management
Scope and Nature of Office Work; Office Equipment (selection and use); Information Technology; Business Letters; The Law and Business; Work Scheduling.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 27. Drainage
Scope and Nature of Drainage; Sub Surface or Surface Drainage; Types of Sub Surface Drains; Water Outlet.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 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.

Lesson 30. Major Garden Design Project


The following are just some of the activities that the student will 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 five 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 three 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 (i.e. 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 earth moving. 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 and 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 (i.e. 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 (completed within the last 4 months). 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. This plan should cover at least 5 years. 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 (e.g. 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 bush garden.
  • Design a bush garden using mainly ferns, for a small courtyard of specified dimensions.


Landscaping is a profession that goes back hundreds of years, and today's landscapers often build their careers on inspiration they derive from those who have gone before.  Here are some of the influential landscapers from the past few hundred years.

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown

Born in England (1716-1783), Brown was an English landscape architect. He was generally known as 'Capability' from his references to the 'capabilities' of the places on which he was consulted. In 1741 he worked under William Kent, (see above), from whom he learnt his principles of design. For the next 10 years he consulted on many gardens, until in1751 he set himself up as an independent garden designer.  Most of his work was alteration to existing gardens and landscapes rather than the creation of new ones. Brown was known as the master of the art of landscape design, able to give not only the designs but the directions necessary for their execution, which frequently involved the making of lakes, widening of rivers, altering of contours, and extensive plantings. Brown was frequently employed by members of the English royalty and nobility, and in 1764 he was given the office of Master Gardener at Hampton Court.

In the 30 years from 1753 till his death, Brown was without any serious rivals in the realms of landscape design, although at the time of his death other designers were starting to come to the fore. By the end of the 18th century, his work was criticised for its destruction of formal gardens. Ironically, Gertrude Jekyll (see below) was among those who criticised Brown’s work.

Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) originally studied art, which gave her an excellent grounding for what developed into a remarkable career as a garden designer. In partnership with Edward Lutyens (an Architect), one of England's most influential landscape design teams operated throughout the 1890's and into the early part of the twentieth century. Jekyll created the planting traditions of the (Commonwealth) War Graves Commission in Lutyens’s fist cemeteries; these traditions are perpetuated today.

Jekyll's love of the cottage garden, and its informal style came through strongly in her designs. Another major contribution was her study of colour and the artistic arrangement of colour in the garden. In her 1899 book Wood and Garden she set out her ideas about wild or natural gardens. Her gardening principles directed that borders should be planted in a pseudo-natural style using indigenous plants and garden plants.  Groups of each plant were arranged in drifts not geometrical blocks; the positions of plants were graded in the border both in sequences of colour and height.

Jekyll was a prolific writer, who through both her designs and writings, had a great influence on the development of informality in garden design throughout the twentieth century.

Jens Jensen

Jens Jensen (1860-1951) was born in Denmark and migrated to America in 1884. Starting as a gardener for the city of Chicago, he set up an independent landscape architecture practice in 1900.  His sole principle of design was emphasis on the use of plants.  His designs used native trees and shrubs, planted in a natural way; his style was named ‘The Prairie Style’. 
Jensen was an absolute purist, who believed that non-native plants should be inadmissible in his landscapes.

Margery Fish  

Margery Fish, (1888-1969), was a most important influence on English Cottage Gardening. Her love of flowers and passion for nature lead her to research intensively, the traditional plants of the cottage garden. 
Her interest in plants was coupled with an extensive understanding of soils and situations to which each plant was suited. She created the garden at East Lambrook Manor from 1938, which remains a monument to her.  An Elizabethan manor, East Lambrook stands in a garden that clearly reflects her interest in plants and has ambling paths and natural gullies mimicking the natural landscape.

Fish was the author of seventeen books including Carefree Gardening and Cottage Garden Plants.

Edna Walling

Born in England, (1896-1973) migrated to Australia in 1920; Walling was a prominent influence on Australian landscaping, throughout the 1930's, 40's and 50's.  Walling's first work appeared to be heavily influenced by Gertrude Jekyll with planting design almost exactly as Jekyll illustrated in her books, and a strong use of pergolas, fences walls, gates, paths etc. as Jekyll did.
Walling's style developed from here to use curved, flowing lawns, low rock walls and semi circular stone walls between terraces, ponds, pavilions, tea houses and formal flower beds. She almost always incorporated a part of the garden as a natural area, where small trees and shrubs in a large bed were designed to grow "wild". Her designs became increasingly informal throughout the 1940's. She wrote many articles for Home Beautiful magazine, and several books, several of which were republished in the 1980's.

Though she did not confine herself to Australian native plants, Edna Walling was instrumental in developing a natural, wilderness style of garden, advocating concepts such as softening boundaries/borders by shrubs and creepers which spill over onto lawns or pathways.

Ellis Stones

Ellis Stones (1895-1975) a tradesman in Melbourne was trained as a builder. He was injured at Gallipoli in 1914. After a long period of recuperation and remedial treatment, Stones resumed building work, against medical advice. 

In 1935, a chance meeting with Edna Walling, Stones found himself employed in constructing stone walls in her landscapes. This introduction to gardening, led him to establish his own business and gardening style, which was essentially the forerunner of the Australian Native Bush Garden.

Ellis Stones emphasised informality deriving his inspiration from the bush; his love of the bush was the dominant influence on everything he did in the field of landscape, garden design and conservation. He held what was, in his time, a minority view that gardens should relate to their natural surroundings.

Through many years of writing, lecturing, and employing up and coming landscape designers, Ellis Stones until his death in the 1970's, had a profound influence upon a whole generation of Australian Landscapers.

Be inspired - develop your skills in garden design

You can enrol on the Certificate In Garden Design - learn from our expert tutors, improve your understanding of the design, development and maintenance of gardens.

If you have any questions or want to know more about studying with ACS, then get in touch with us today - submit your questions to our specialist horticulture and garden tutors; or phone us on -

(UK) 01384 442752, or

(International) +44 (0) 1384 442752.

We look forward to hearing from you!