Certificate in Garden Design; home study online course designed to develop your ability to design and landscape a range of different gardens. Ideal training for landscapers.

Course Code: VHT012
Fee Code: CT
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 600 hours
Qualification Certificate
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This is a course which both develops the students design skills, as well as basic knowledge in other areas of concern to the landscaper (eg. horticultural practices, management, plant identification and use, and marketing).
This is a great foundation Course -the first substantial step toward a career as a Garden Designer. If your focus is squarely on design, this is a better course than Certificate in Horticulture -Landscape & Garden Design (which leans a bit more to horticulture and as such may be more appropriate for a garden contractor/designer)

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.


The aim of the course is to lead you through a 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.

Study Options Explained:

  • Correspondence -Here we supply your course as printed materials, sent via the mail or courier.
  • Online -Here we provide access to the course on line (While you are connected to the internet). The online option supplies you automated self assessment tests in addition to course notes (not available with the correspondence option) .
  • E Learning -Here the course is sent to you on CD. It is identical to the online version (with self assessment tests), but you don't need to be connected to the internet to access course notes (so you can save on internet charges, and often access is faster).

Note: If you want printed notes, but choose the online or e learning options; you can print copies of pages as required from the electronic files.  Assignments may be submitted by online submission, email or snail mail.

Understanding 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.



Lesson Structure

There are 30 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction to Landscaping
  2. Plant Identification
  3. History of Gardening
  4. Drawing Plans
  5. Soils & Nutrition
  6. Understanding the Environment
  7. Earthworks & Surveying
  8. Basic Landscape Construction
  9. Surfacing Treatments
  10. Garden Structures
  11. Park Design
  12. Home Garden Design
  13. Costing & Specifications
  14. Trail Design
  15. Tools & Machinery
  16. Plant Establishment Techniques
  17. Ponds & Pools
  18. Rockwork & Masonry
  19. Lawn Construction Techniques
  20. Irrigation Design & Installation
  21. Bush Garden Design
  22. Cottage Garden Design
  23. Playground Design
  24. Garden Bed Design
  25. Management
  26. Land Rehabilitation
  27. Drainage
  28. Maintenance
  29. Dealing with Clients
  30. Major 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 that design can have 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 & 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 & 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 (eg. 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.

There are many different types of people who design gardens. Some specialize in home gardens, some in commercial landscapes and others in public landscaping. Some are geared to develop small projects and others large ones. Some are highly skilled in the technical aspects of design, undertaking complex mathematical calculations to ensure complicated constructions are structurally sound (eg. bridges, irrigation and drainage systems).
Clients can save a lot of money and better achieve what they want in a garden, by getting some professional landscaping advice. This course sets you on a path to whatever type of business or career you wish to establish in garden design.
As you study, your awareness of options and opportunities will expand; and perhaps your original aspirations may change a little; in the light of what you learn. This is part of the benefit of study.
Learning helps you Avoid Mistakes
Gardening mistakes are the sort of things that all too often creep up on you. You buy the wrong plant: it dies, and you go and buy another; not even thinking that if you bought the right plant in the first place you wouldn’t have to be spending money on a new one.
People pave or gravel an area; then find it doesn’t really work. They then spend more money landscaping the same area a few years later … the overall cost ends up a lot more than if they had hired a professional and had a better job done right from the start.
There are different experts for different things:
Landscape Architects or Civil Engineers – you need someone highly trained like this if you are doing serious structural work, like building a bridge or a high wall. Landscape Architects and Civil Engineers have completed a minimum of 4 years study at a tertiary institution.
Landscape Designers – they may have considerably less knowledge of engineering but their plant and gardening knowledge and their landscape design skills should be very good. Most landscape designers have completed a certificate, diploma or degree in horticulture. Their skills and experience can vary – look at their previous work or references.
Landscape Contractors – they build but don’t necessarily design. Since they spend most of their time constructing they will often have a very good insight into what will work and what won’t. Their practical knowledge is their forte. Sometimes landscape architects have great ideas on paper but a good builder will be able to tell you if it is feasible.
Horticultural Consultants – advise on plants and how plants grow. They should be highly skilled and have expert knowledge of plants. Many specialise in a particular area of horticulture, eg. arboriculture. Most consultants will have a minimum qualification of a diploma and be a member of a recognised professional institution.
Mixed Skills
There aren’t always black and white definitions of each type of expert. For example, many garden designers will have construction skills and sound plant knowledge as well as the ability to produce an innovative design. You may well find that you only require the services of one professional in order to achieve your desired outcome. Others will have acquired their knowledge through ‘hands on’ experience…working in garden centres, nurseries, and for landscaping companies, as well as boosting their knowledge through their own reading.
In addition, you will find that most successful professionals will have built up a network of people that they trust and whom they can call on for different landscaping projects. For example, a garden designer will be able to call on the skills of a carpenter, electrician, brick-layer, gardener and so on.



No course no matter what area of study, or at what level, will guarantee you work. There are many other facets to finding a job and advancing your career:

Choosing the right course:  in a landscaping course you should learn about landscape construction along with garden design - garden designers need to be able to do more than just draw up a garden plan and choose the right plants, they need to understand the fundamentals of garden construction too. If you don’t understand the fundamentals of landscape construction you really can’t properly manage a landscaping project or produce workable designs that include these types of landscaping elements. If you choose the right combination in a course then you will be ready to tackle a range of landscaping problems, at design stage, when needed. You also need to understand plants - be able to choose the right plant for the right place and understand their care and maintenance their preferences and so on - without this knowledge you cannot design a garden.

Choosing the right school: not all schools are equal!  Some concentrate on rushing you through the course within set time frames and semesters but at ACS you work at your own pace, starting within days of enrolment. We also support you through your course – just contact us whenever you need to so we can help you to move through your studies as efficiently as possible. Choosing the right school also means that your studies are tailored to suit your needs, industry needs and future job prospects.

Getting the most out of your course: studying is not just about getting that qualification and getting a job isn’t just about your qualifications either. Getting the most out of your course means not rushing through your studies just to get the piece of paper. It means absorbing what you are learning, being able to store that knowledge and recall it later – many years later. Not all courses give you that. Some courses concentrate on competencies rather than encouraging you to develop problem solving skills. With Problem Based or Experiential Learning you are set problems that need to be solved in your set tasks and assignments. Students that study with a school using these methods (such as ACS), tend to absorb knowledge better they are also better at long term memory and recall.

Being passionate about your work: people who are passionate about their work tend to do a lot better they also do far better at their studies. You will also be far more likely to advance further in your career if you are truly interested in the work you are doing or want to do.

Learn to communicate effectively: good communicators are able to converse well with people at any level. They are good listeners. They annunciate clearly. They will have great customer skills, a great attitude to their work, are very good on the phone. They also know their way around a computer and use them as tools for effective communication. They also know what is and isn’t appropriate language in the workplace. They will understand boundaries. They are usually confident.Confident, respectful good listeners are also more likely to do well in their work or business - clients like being listened to and advised in a confident manner.

Start networking: networking is one of the most effective tools for gaining employment. There are many ways that you can network: join social media groups such as linked-in and make sure that you update your profile as your educational or employment standing changes. Make yourself known within your industry - join industry groups and affiliations, attend seminars, trade shows and exhibitions and any other opportunity for you to mix with your peers or prospective employers.

Always be well-presented: first appearances always count - a well-groomed and appropriately dressed person will always get a better reception than a scruffy one - whether it is for a job interview or when visiting clients.


Course Contributors

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

Diana Cole

Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Permaculture Design Certificate, B.A. (Hons)-Geography, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development
Diana has been an enthusiastic volunteer with community garden and land conservation projects sinc

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

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

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