Our School

Established in 1979, as Australian Horticultural Correspondence School,  by John Mason, a graduate of Burnley Horticultural College. At the time, he was a sessional lecturer at Burnley. At the beginning of 1979, Burnley had thousands of people applying to study horticulture, but no capacity to teach those numbers. John attempted to get a distance education program funded to start at Burnley; but by mid year, with no results, he was frustrated.  With prompting from a few friends and collegues, he developed and launched a course independently; which was so successful that ACS was born.


ACS has educated tens of thousands of full and part-time students, many of whom have gone onto successful employment, both in industry or in their own businesses. Others have used their courses to develop a hobby, or simply broaden their general education.


ACS affiliates, have licensed and used our courses to educate over a million people. These courses are truly tried and proven.

Key differences between ACS and many other schools today are:

  • Primary Focus is Learning - Many colleges today are focused heavily on assessing students, satisfying audits, seeking ways to access government funding. We believe these things are distractions. The long term value of education is in one thing only; what you learn. Your learning is what makes you a better person, and leads to success later on.
  • Independence -  Being privately owned by the same family since 1979, and largely free of the restrictions imposed by "national curriculum", we are able to continually update and improve courses, and develop programs much faster than institutions which are restricted by committees, delayed funding and bureaucratic systems.

ACS Distance Education in Australia has around 1500 students enrolled in starter, transition and professional development short courses, from over 150 countries around the world.

Other affiliated colleges who license and use courses we develop and maintain; are teaching our courses to more than 30,000 additional students (2022 figures)


Courses developed by our staff are also licensed to around 15 other institutions across the world, increasing these numbers significantly. These are well established, tried and proven courses.

The school employs around 45 staff across the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Our courses are unique, built around the ideas of experiential learning and problem based learning (Unlike competency based training used elsewhere, we emphasise learning more and assessment less).


How We are Different?

Our courses focus on helping you learn.

After more than 45 years of teaching and watching graduates develop careers; we realize that "passing exams" and "getting qualifications comes a distant second to "what you learn"

Some of the best qualified people in horticulture often struggle to succeed; while others who have a lot of knowledge and skill, can frequently become industry leaders, despite having few (and sometimes no) qualifications




  • Research across the world of education shows little correlation between qualifications and career success. Strong evidence points to the overwhelming importance of learning to career or business success.
  • Courses and service have a truly global focus.
  • Courses have been developed with strong industry input from around the world and are continually updated on the basis of surveys undertaken by both current students and graduates every month of the year.
  • Courses have been designed for "experiential learning" and "challenge based learning" and many incorporate "problem based learning". All of these are well recognised tapproaches to achieving quality learning.
  • The school holds high the ideals of practical education, emphasising in all courses those things which are relevant to "real life". Courses offered cater for hobby interest through to formal training in industry and the professions.

The school has also been active in the publishing industry for over two decades, partnering several different print media publishers to produce a variety of books and magazines. In 2010, ACS set up it's own eBook publishing arm. eBooks published by the school can be seen in our bookshop at www.acsebook.com

In 2017 we established a video production unit and since then have been routinely producing educational videos in house that are specifically developed to fit with our courses and reinforce the overall learning experience.



We started life as Australian Horticultural Correspondence Schools with an advertisement in Australia's Your Garden Magazine, in August 1979. One course was offered (Horticulture I), and thirty seven enrolments resulted from this first advertisement.

The school was established by John Mason, a graduate of Burnley Horticultural College who had after a career as a Parks Director, been involved lecturing horticulture and related subjects at several Melbourne colleges, including Burnley. In late 1978 he became aware that large numbers of applicants were being turned away from Burnley each year. There simply were insufficient places available for the number of people wanting to study horticulture. The answer seemed obvious. Develop distance education courses. At first John tried to secure support from the government. The college principal was very supportive; but as is often the case; bureaucracy and lack of funding made progress difficult. By mid 1999, John decided to simply write a course, and with help from a colleague who had marketing experience with CAE (Council of Adult Education); a plan was born.

Throughout the 1980's the range of courses grew; as did the staff and scope of operation. By the mid 1980's students from over 25 countries were enrolled with the school, and the percentage of overseas students was growing every year.

In 1985 we opened a retail shop which operated for 18 months. With the school continuing to grow much faster than the shop, we exited retailing (except for mail order books) in 1986.

Around this time, ACS also formed a horticultural marketing business called Let's Grow, in partnership with garden media personalities Glen Heyne in Melbourne; and Graham and Sandra Ross in Sydney.

In 1987 we started to exhibit more extensively at garden shows, farm field days and other exhibitions. We also began organising exhibitions and providing consulting services to exhibition companies.

From 1988 for 5 years, ACS contracted to organise a Garden Show as part of the Royal Melbourne Show for the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria.

In 1991, with expanding interest from the north of Australia and beyond, a second office was established in Queensland on the Gold Coast

In 1992; following changes made by the Australian government; it became possible for the first time for private colleges to obtain formal government recognition. ACS was amongst the first colleges in Victoria to make a submission and be granted Registered Training Organisation status (RTO) by the Victorian government.

Over the early to mid 1990s' various other accreditations were sought and achieved. By the late 1990's most of the courses offered did have some form of formal accreditation. At this stage, the bureaucracy and costs involved with accreditation were escalating rapidly. An assessment was undertaken. We determined that "accreditations" were adding 25% to the cost of operation. We surveyed employers and students; and carefully studied old records. It was obvious that in reality, government accreditations had neither increased enrolments, nor had given any appreciable benefits to students or graduates. We did however see some benefits from a few non government accreditations or associations that had been developed.
It was decided at that point that the ethical and financially pragmatic thing to do was to reduce resources put into government accreditation. This would allow a higher % of resources to be put into provision of service to students; and to keep course fees from rising too high.

In 1989 ACS licenced Home Study College of South Africa to represent it in that country. Many ACS courses were offered and delivered in that part of the world through HSA following that deal.

The 90's also saw another major change in the school with the introduction of the internet.

ACS was one of the first colleges to put significant resources into developing web sites; and following that into developing an online training system. As such, the profile of ACS web sites grew well beyond what would have been expected for a small college that it was. It maintains an extremely strong web presence even today, because of the foundation laid in the early and mid 1990's.

With this expanded web presence came an increased international awareness of ACS and our unique range of courses. This attracted attention from many quarters.

In the late 1990's courses were sold or licenced to a number of other countries.

The government of Bermuda purchased rights to the ACS Certificate in Horticulture, to use in developing horticultural training for that country. One of the United States largest mail order plant nurseries (Pacifica), purchased rights to the same Certificate in Horticulture, and began teaching this program from a new 400 acre botanic gardens in Oregon.

In 2002, a sister school and office was established in the UK, offering all of the same courses, but with local tutors and student support for the UK, Europe and surrounding regions. Since that time, the UK branch of ACS has grown rapidly, and today accounts for around one third of our global business. This UK school offers a similar range of short courses, and many of the tutors are employed by both schools; but the UK school is a completely separate legal entity to Australia.

Apart from teaching; ACS has also always been involved in publishing.

From the early 1980's for around 15 years, ACS principal John Mason, wrote regularly for Grass Roots Magazine. In 1983 the school started regularly contributing to the national garden magazine -Garden Guide -and contributed off and on with that magazine until 2003. In 1988 the school was contracted by Express Publications in Sydney to write a range of Gardening magazines. This arrangement also continued for many years.

Over a period of 30 years, John Mason and staff at the school have also been contracted to write over 40 books for both national and international publishers including Kangaroo Press, Leisure Press (New York), Harper Collins, CSIRO/Landlinks Press and Hyland House.

Throughout the 21st Century ACS has continued to grow internationally. By 2003 it was becoming very obvious that the future growth was more overseas than just in Australia. ACS now employs staff worldwide. The two main offices today are in Queensland , Australia; and Stourbridge in England.

In 2013 John Mason and staff launched a new project -Home Grown Magazine, with  John as the garden editor, and our staff make up the team of staff writers for this new quarterly magazine, available through news outlets across Australia (1st edition, September 2013). 

In 2015 John was invited onto the board of the newly formed Australian Garden Council. A new peak body, with 12 board members, representing the interests of Australia's garden industry, the AGC was launched by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull at parliament house Canberra in November 2015.


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