Garden Design Certificate. Draw landscape plans, specifications, cost estimates. Learn plant identification, plant selection and care plus hard landscaping techniques and materials.

Course Code: VHT012
Fee Code: CT
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 600 hours
Qualification Certificate
Get started!

Train as a Professional Garden Designer

Learn to draw plans, identify and choose plants, and mastermind stunning designs. Start your own business, or seek employment in the landscape industry.

To obtain the Certificate in Garden Design, you must complete all assignments (including a special assignment); sit for (and pass), two 1.5 hour examinations: one at the end of the first 15 lessons, the other on completing the final 15 lessons.

  • This course leads you through a unique learning experience.
  • Every student will interpret the guide differently and be led differently.
  • Your tutor will be monitoring your progress through the assignments, so if you miss anything he/she will fill you in.

What is Landscape Design?

A landscape consists of both living and non living things. These are the components of the landscape.

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.


The basic principles of landscape design are those things which influence the way in which the components are used. For example, the over-riding principle in Chinese gardens is unity - between rocks, plants and water. For Le Notre, a famous 17th Century French designer, a very important principle was that of symmetry, while for Capability Brown, an influential 18th century English landscaper, the most important principle was for landscapes to be natural in appearance.

Ground form, structures and plants all need to be organised into a pleasing composition of spaces to satisfy the principles chosen by the designer with an emphasis to suit the client.


Exams: There are four exams for the course; one after lesson 7, another after lesson 15; a third after lesson 22 and the final at the conclusion of the course. 


Lesson Structure

There are 30 lessons in this course:

  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
  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
  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,
  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
  5. Soils and Nutrition
    • Importance of Soil
    • Soil Composition, texture, horizons
    • Naming a Soil
    • Improving Soils
    • Landscape Supplies
    • Terminology
  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 Sclerophyll
    • Review of Australian Plant Families
  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
  8. Basic Landscape Construction
    • Specifications and Contracts
    • Contract Terminology
    • Drainage and Erosion
    • Walling
    • Rockeries
    • Steps
    • Types of Playgrounds
    • Making Stable Mounds
  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
  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
  11. Park Design
    • User Friendly Gardens, seating, shelter, fragrant plants, etc
    • Recreational Landscaping
    • Park Design Criteria
    • Playgrounds
    • Making Community Participation Work
  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
  13. Costing and Specifications
    • Buying Plants; what to look for
    • Cost of Garden Maintenance
    • Expensive Areas in Gardens; lawns, containers, annuals, vegetables
    • Less Expensive to Maintain areas; shrubberies, paving, natural bush areas
    • Costing Jobs
    • The Market for Landscape Contractors; government sector, developers, commercial sector, private sector
  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
  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
  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
  17. Ponds and Pools
    • Types of Ponds; formal, informal
    • 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.
  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
  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
  20. Irrigation Design and Installation
    • Planning an irrigation system
    • Micro irrigation
    • Sprinkler irrigation
    • Using a watering system
    • Automated Systems
    • Maintenance of Irrigation Systems
  21. Bush Garden Design
    • Scope and Nature
    • Birds in a Garden; attracting, feeding, etc
  22. Cottage Garden Design
    • Scope and Nature
    • Components
    • Paths and Fences in a Cottage Garden
  23. Playground Design
    • Planning for Play
    • Playing at Home
    • Play Equipment; sand pit, cubbies, swings etc
  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
  25. Management
    • Scope and nature of Office Work
    • Office equipment; selection and use
    • Information Technology
    • Business Letters
    • The Law and Business
    • Work Scheduling
  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
  27. Drainage
    • Scope and Nature of Drainage
    • Sub Surface or Surface Drainage
    • Types of Sub Surface Drains
    • Water Outlet
  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
  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
  30. Major Garden Design Project


  • Discuss the principles Garden Design.
  • Develop a foundation for systematic identification of plants and systematic determination of cultural requirements.
  • Develop an awareness of different styles of gardening, principally through the study of the history of gardening.
  • Develop the basic skills of landscape drawing as well as developing a basic understanding of contracts and specifications.
  • Identify soil conditions appropriate for a garden design.
  • Identify and properly account for environmental conditions within a garden design.
  • Determine earthworks required for a garden design.
  • Consider the relationship between design and construction when designing a garden.
  • Determine appropriate surfacing for different gardens
  • Determine appropriate garden structures for a garden.
  • Evaluate the functionality of a park design.
  • Evaluate the design of a home garden.
  • Develop an appreciation for the impact design has on the cost of a garden.
  • Discuss the functionality and design of surfaced areas in a garden or park, including paths, trails and sporting facilities.
  • Discuss the scope and nature of tools used to landscape gardens.
  • Discuss ways that plants may be better established.
  • Discuss the design of water gardens
  • Discuss the use of Rock, Stone, Brick and Concrete in garden designs.
  • Discuss the appropriate use of lawns in garden designs.
  • Discuss the appropriate use of irrigation in garden designs
  • Discuss the design of natural gardens.
  • Discuss the design of cottage gardens.
  • Discuss the design of children's play areas.
  • Discuss the design of garden beds.
  • Identify Management skills required to be a commercially viable garden designer.
  • Explain methods of rehabilitation of degraded landscapes.
  • Explain methods of dealing with drainage problems in a garden design
  • Discuss the relationship between garden design and maintenance.
  • Explain how a garden designer should successfully deal with clients.
  • Prepare a significant garden design.

What You Will Do

  • 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 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 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 (ie. 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 earthmoving. 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 (ie. 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 and fitness, nature, history, etc.) and may be located anywhere (a street, park, home garden, etc).
  • Find and visit some recently landscaped gardens. 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. 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 natural garden.
  • Design a natural style garden using mainly ferns, for a small courtyard of specified dimensions.


What is Landscape Design?

A landscape consists of both living and non living things. These are the components of the landscape.
Examples of non living components might be rocks, gravel paths, timber, walls etc. These non living components can be looked on in two ways:
  1. As the materials which they are made up of; and
  2. 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.


The basic principles of landscape design are those things which influence the way in which the components are used. For example, the over-riding principle in Chinese gardens is unity - between rocks, plants and water. For Le Notre, a famous 17th Century French designer, a very important principle was that of symmetry, while for Capability Brown, an influential 18th century English landscaper, the most important principle was for landscapes to be natural in appearance.

Ground form, structures and plants all need to be organised into a pleasing composition of spaces to satisfy the principles chosen by the designer with an emphasis to suit the client.

Start with the Soil

Good soil is the foundation of any garden; if you don't get the soil right plants don't grow well, and structures you build don't sit firmly in the ground.
There are two ways you can get good soil: one is to improve your existing soil (which can be a slow process), the other is to buy in good soil.
What is Soil?
Basically, besides gas pockets, soil has three ingredients:
  1. Small particles of rock (sand, clay, silt).
  2. Organic material (rotting leaves, pieces of bark, etc.).
  3. Micro-organisms (worms, fungi, small insects, etc.).
The ideal soil contains a mixture of rock particles, plenty of organic matter and a healthy population of micro-organisms. However, not all soils contain all these components. When this happens you need to add the missing ingredients.
When to buy in soil?
  • Where rock is close to or coming through the surface.
  • Where real estate developers have removed the natural topsoil leaving poor quality subsoil exposed.
  • Where the soil is too sandy to hold water and nutrients.
  • Where the soil is too rocky or clayey for water, nutrients, or even roots to penetrate.
  • When you are laying a lawn.
  • When you are building raised beds.
  • When you are doing a cut and fill.
  • If you need to establish a quality garden fast, buy in good quality soil rather than persevering with poor soil.
Limiting Factors
It can be expensive to buy in top quality soil. Another problem may be availability – the type of bulk soil available in a locality will be restricted by what exists naturally in the region. Sometimes the type of soil you want simply won’t be available in your area.
Don’t let this put you off buying soil. You may have to compromise and buy whatever is available and then improve it yourself. Adding organic matter will make a big difference to lesser quality soil – just make sure it’s well mixed in and that you add the right amount (too much and the soil will be ‘fluffy’ and won’t retain water; too little and you won’t be improving it). Also be aware that not all organic matter is suitable – mixing fresh sawdust into the soil, for example, will temporarily reduce the amount of nitrogen available to plants. Aged or composted sawdust will not cause this problem.
How Much Soil Do You Need?
The amount of soil you need depends on the area you are covering and the type of plants you want to grow. For a lawn, you need around 20 cm depth of top soil; shrubs and trees need more - around 60cm depth will work for most species.
If you have a garden that requires you to buy in soil, you can save money by choosing to use plants that have shallower root systems – such as palms (in the right climate).
What is Clay Soil?
Clay soil has very small particles. It contains some plant nutrients, but is both hard to get wet and does not dry out easily once it gets waterlogged. It can be difficult for some plants to get their roots into clay soil.
What is Sandy Soil?
Sandy soil has comparatively large particles. It drains easily, but contains few nutrients and is hard to keep wet.
What is Loamy Soil?
With a high level of organic matter, loam soil contains high levels of nutrients. It is ideal for growing most plants and provides plenty of food for micro-organisms.
What is Topsoil?
Soil is made up of layers – the upper layer is called topsoil; all layers below this are called the subsoil. The topsoil is the zone where plant roots grow; hence its properties are extremely important for plant growth.
For good plant health, the topsoil needs to have good structure and fertility. It should contain organic matter (humus), organisms (earthworms and micro-organisms), oxygen, water and minerals. 
What Type of Soil do you Need?
You need to match your soil needs with the type of plants you are growing; and to some extent, the amount of care and attention you can give the garden.
Lawns undoubtedly grow best in a sandy topsoil, this type of soil dries out fast and loses nutrients by leaching. If you’re not going to attend to watering and fertilizing, you are better growing a second rate lawn on a soil containing more clay and organic matter. Perhaps buy an organic loam, and mix it with your natural soil below.
Vegetable and flower gardens are different. If your natural soil is clay: buy in enough sandy soil to cover 5 to 10 cm, and enough compost or organic soil to cover another 5-10cm. Mix this together and with the top few centimetres of the clay soil below.
If your natural soil is very sandy: buy enough organic soil or compost to cover 5-15 cm and mix with the top 5cm of the sandy loam.
Soil blends
Many garden centres make up their own soil mix for use in your garden. This means they can ensure the quality of the soil and add beneficial ingredients that do not occur naturally in the soil. Some garden centres even make more than one soil blend, e.g. a sandy loam for turf areas and a heavier soil for garden beds.
Soil blends will usually mix sand and composted wood chips with soil from the quarry. Additional ingredients will vary between different garden centres: gypsum to help break down clay, water crystals to improve the water holding capacity and animal manures for extra nutrients.
Ask your local garden supplier what they have included in their soil blend.
How Clean is the Soil?
Some soils carry weed seeds, or worse still: disease or pest organisms.
If you buy from a reputable company (e.g. A member of the Nursery Industry Association supplies soils that meet Standards Association standards), these problems are unlikely. If the mix is a potting mix that does not contain soil (e.g. a mix of composted bark and sand) it will be free of such problems. Cheap soils from soil yards that look dirty are always suspicious.
It’s always good to inspect what you buy before buying.
Pick up a handful of soil and look at it. Weed seeds can often be seen if they are a problem. If the soil is 'soggy' and has a stagnant smell, the likelihood of disease will be higher.
Look for Even Texture
Any good soil will have an even texture throughout (i.e. It does not contain lumps).
Smell Before Buying
Many soil mixes contain composted material, or manure. If these materials are too fresh (i.e. have not been fully composted), they will have a strong smell, and be more likely to burn the roots of tender plants.
How to Use Soil
Problem: When you lay good soil over the top of bad soil, you will have a zone between the two where conditions change dramatically. For example, water moves through the good soil fast, then slows or stops when it hits the underlying ground. It then builds up, and creates a waterlogged zone.
Solution: Lay 25% of the bought soil over the surface and dig it in. Then lay the remainder on top. This creates a transition zone.
Why does Soil Cost so Much?
A major part of the cost of the soil is the cost of moving it from the quarry or soil pit, to the garden centre or soil yard. Costs are usually based on the distance it is carried…so soil brought in from further away can cost a great deal more; even if it is not as good as soil brought in from nearby. The best soils are usually processed (e.g. screened, composted, mixed, etc). They may even have fertilizer or other things added to improve them. All of these things cost time and money



ACS was founded by John Mason in 1979 as Australian Horticultural Correspondence School.

Right from these very early times, we've always believed that the best education only comes when the student is learning from the experience of a whole range of industry experts (rather than just a single teacher).

Every ACS course is a work in progress, continually evolving, with new information being added and old information being updated by our team of internationally renowned professional horticulturists.

Over the decades more than 100 horticulture experts from across the world have contributed to these courses, bringing their individual knowledge and experiences from as wide afield as England and Spain to Australia and America.

While may colleges and universities focus on providing courses that relate only to the country where they are based, ACS has always strived to make it's courses relevant to all parts of the world; any climate, economic or cultural situation. This has been achieved by involving a large number of professionals in the course development.

When it comes to tutoring, marking papers and mentoring students, the team approach is just as strong as with our writing. ACS students have the ability to obtain advice and support from staff across the world, with horticulture tutors located in the UK, Australia (both the north and south) and New Zealand.

The ACS team approach and global focus to both course content and student support, ensures our graduates have a unique and "real world" skills set. This unique approach is highly regarded by our colleagues in horticulture.

Contributors to ACS Courses over the years have included:

John Mason - is a founding board member of the Australian Garden Council, a former parks director (Melton, Essendon and Heidelberg), Landscape Designer (Playgrounds and recreation Association of Victoria), Nurseryman, President Australian Institute of Horticulture (Victoria), Committee International Year of the Child (Australia), Author over over 150 books, Editor Home Grown Magazine, Editor Garden Guide Magazine, Editor Your Backyard Magazine.

Maggi Brown - Education officer, Henry Doubleday Research Association (UK), gold medal winner Chelsea Flower Show, Garden consultant.

Adriana Fraser - Horticultural Consultant, TAFE Lecturer, Project Manager - Parks and Gardens, Horticultural writer.

Iain Harrison - Garden Manager Fibremakers, Garden Consultant, Lecturer Swinburn TAFE

Katie Freeth - Manager Commonwealth War Graves (France), Horticultural Consultant (France & UK), Board member Institute of Horticulture, and International Federation Parks & Recreation Administration

Tony Bundock - Horticulture Businessman, Consultant, Head of Horticulture Dept. TAFE

Jim Davis - Horticulture Businessman, Lecturer TAFE (NSW), Principal VCAH Burnley College

Dr Lyn Morgan - Author and internationally renowned hydroponics consultant (New Zealand)

Dr Valeria Astorga - Horticultural consultant, lecturer (Spain, Peru, Australia)

Alison Bundock - Editor (Kangaroo Press; Southern Cross University), Technical Writer (APM), Consultant

Rosemary Davies - Horticultural consultant, journalist, media personality (Victoria)



Becoming a Garden Designer

This course is an excellent place to start. It gives you a foundation. Through these studies you will understand and practice the process of garden design, expand your awareness, and develop a realistic understanding of your own potential . Some people go on from these studies to establish a very successful practice as a garden designer, others find employment with a landscaper, nurseryman or garden manager, where they are able to continue developing their skills and knowledge of garden design to a higher level.
If you have an interest and passion for gardens, this course can be an excellent entry point for you into the landscape industry.


The vast majority of garden design graduates will run their own business – but some do work for other designers, landscapers, landscape architects or work in retail nurseries as advisors.

To answer the above question though – no a course will not guarantee you work. There are many things that will contribute to that:

Finding the right course: to be a really good garden designer you need to develop a range of skills, all too many courses in garden design focus on design alone and the student never really learns about plant knowledge and landscape construction skills – these aspects are as important to functional garden design as is drawing up a design. Dreaming up pretty gardens is one thing but making sure that they have the right drainage system, that the retaining walls are structurally sound, that paving is laid correctly (even if you are sub-contracting this work), that the plant choices suit the local environment, that the soils suit the plants you choose and so on are all crucial to a design being dysfunctional, barely functional, functional or great!

Be a great communicator: no matter what industry you work in you need great communication skills and garden design is no exception. It is easy for a designer to be carried away with their brilliance and become uncompromising. Remember that the client is paying for your work. If you are not flexible you won’t get further recommendations. On the other hand you need to develop communication skills and communicating includes listening. One of the most important aspects of a garden design process is listening to a client’s needs and wants. If you know that their ‘wants’ will not work, given the nature of their garden, then you need to be able to gently lead your clients to your points of view. You need to be confident in your approach and know that your suggestions are based on sound knowledge and theirs may not work given the nature of their garden. The only way you can get this confidence is through knowledge and experience.

Be proficient in the use of technology: almost all clients will expect you to be able to use computer skills to produce designs. If you like to produce hand drawn plans this is also completely acceptable but they must be drawn to scale and be professional in appearance. You should be able to generate contracts, emails and letters that are also equally professional and well-written.

Be well presented: this is as important as great communication skills – when you face clients or are looking for work in this industry your appearance i.e. dress and grooming will be the first thing that you communicate to the person you are facing. A well-groomed person will always instill more confidence than a scruffy one!



Most garden designers will work for themselves, either running their own business or as a sub contractor providing design services to businesses or organisations in property development or construction. Some may find a permanent job, but self employment is where most of the work is.

It is common for students to be offered the odd jobs as their progress through their course. Once friends and others find out you are learning to design gardens, your advice does tend to get sought after. Even if jobs take longer to do, and you are getting paid little or nothing, your first jobs are a great opportunity to learn, and at the same time begin to establish a reputation. Make those jobs count. Take your time and be very obliging to the clients and your reputation will begin to develop in a positive way. With some successes behind you, it becomes far easier to get work; and with some experience, it becomes a lot faster to do the work.

Your design commissions may grow slowly or rapidly from here. If you are proactive in promoting yourself, you may establish some relationships that feed you work from garden centres, building contractors, plant nurseries or others who are regularly working with the type of people who need a garden designer.

Some graduates may start their own landscape construction business or plant nursery; and operate a complimentary business such as that alongside their garden designing. Some may develop a reputation for a specialist type of design -becoming the go to person for designing  water gardens, children's playgrounds, edible gardens or something else.

This course is an excellent starting point whichever path you follow.


UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Our principal John Mason is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture

Accredited ACS Global Partner

ACS Distance Education is a member of the Australian Garden Council, Our Principal John Mason is a board member of the Australian Garden Council

Member of the Nursery and Garden Industry Association since 1993

ACS is a silver sponsor of the AIH. The principal, John Mason, is a fellow. ACS certificate students are offered a free membership for this leading professional body.Provider.

Member of the Permaculture Association

Member of Study Gold Coast

Institute of Training and Occupational Learning (UK)

Principal John Mason is a member of Parks and Leisure Australia since 1974 and a fellow since 1998

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

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

Gavin Cole (Horticulturist)

Gavin started his career studying building and construction in the early 80's. Those experiences have provided a very solid foundation for his later work in landscaping. In 1988 he completed a B.Sc. and a few years later a Certificate in Garden Design. I

Adriana Fraser (Horticulturist)

Adriana has worked in horticulture since the 1980's. She has lived what she preaches - developing large gardens and growing her own fruit, vegetables and herbs and making her own preserves.
In 1992 she formalised her training by graduating with a certif

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.