Landscaping & garden design certificate by home study. Study online by distance education. Improve your landscaping qualifications or start a business.

Course Code: VHT002
Fee Code: CT
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 700 hours
Qualification Certificate
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Discover How to Maximise Horticultural Knowledge in Garden Design

Behind every good garden designer is a deep understanding of horticulture principles and practices. Before you can select suitable plants for a specific site, you need to understand what shape they will grow into, what size they will be at maturity, and what attributes they have in terms of flower and leaf colour, size, and texture.

But you also need to know what soils they prefer, whether they need full sun or part shade, whether they need training, and how to prune, feed, and water them. 

This extensive course takes students through a core study component that embeds plant knowledge, and then goes on to cover aspects of garden design and construction that make the best use of that horticultural knowledge. 

Learn about:

  • How to collect pre-planning information
  • Drawing designs
  • Estimating and contracts
  • How to use different components, structures, and materials.    


This certificate entails the following:

  • Core studies - half of the course, involving approximately 350hrs over 15 lessons.
  • Elective studies - half of the course, involving stream studies specific to landscaping. 

Lesson Structure

There are 31 lessons in this course:

  1. Plant Nomenclature and taxonomy
  2. Parts of the Plant
  3. Plant Culture - Planting
  4. Plant Culture - Pruning
  5. Plant Culture - Irrigation and Machinery
  6. Soils & Media
  7. Soils & Nutrition
  8. Propagation - Seeds & Cuttings
  9. Propagation - Other Techniques
  10. Identification and Use of Plants
  11. Identification and Use of Plants
  12. Identification and Use of Plants
  13. Pests
  14. Diseases
  15. Weeds
  16. History of Landscaping
  17. Principles of Design and Planning Information
  18. Drawing and Costs
  19. Irrigation
  20. Garden Designs
  21. Earthmoving and Drainage
  22. Materials
  23. Paths, Walls and Fences
  24. Equipment
  25. Water Features
  26. Garden Art: Statues, Sundials and Figurines
  27. Landscaping for Sports and Games
  28. Landscaping Contracting
  29. Landscape Management
  30. Unions and Workers
  31. Maintenance after Costruction

What You Will Do

  • Review the historical evolution of gardens.
  • Obtain pre-planning information and use of that information to draw plans.
  • Identify different principles and styles of landscape designs.
  • Analyze garden designs.
  • Develop graphic skills, and a knowledge of drawing materials and techniques.
  • Prepare cost estimates for a landscape job.
  • Describe surfacing materials and their effects.
  • Explain the quality and cost of different landscape materials.
  • Develop a knowledge of plants, both native and exotic, suitable for local conditions.
  • Select plants for difficult sites and conditions.
  • Describe advantages and disadvantages of various pipes, sprinklers and pumping equipment.
  • Recommend irrigation systems for different landscape situations.
  • Design a simple irrigation system.
  • Design a natural garden and the value and relevance of using native plants.
  • Analyze and report on a cottage garden design.
  • Analyze and report on a playground design.
  • Prepare a playground design for a school or public park.
  • Draw layout plans for a range of gardens.
  • Conduct a detailed survey of a site, prepare a detailed plan based on that survey, estimate costs and develop contract documentation for that project.
  • Explain earthworks and soil preparation techniques used in landscaping.
  • Describe alternative techniques for establishing and growing plants.
  • Explain a range of landscape construction techniques including building fences, walls, rockeries, paths, water gardens, paving and drainage.
  • Compare different landscape materials with respect to their quality, cost, availability and application in garden construction.
  • Describe the correct procedures for the proper and safe removal of a limb from a tree, and for the felling of trees.
  • Develop a detailed maintenance program for a garden.
  • Demonstrate the ability to prepare for, and plant a new lawn.
  • Explain how to establish turf on a steep slope.
  • Write and advertisement for a landscaping business.
  • Explain basic management procedures.
  • Show a reasonable level of communication skill.
  • Explain health and safety requirements on a landscape site.
  • Describe the relevant identifying physical features of flowering ornamental plants.
  • Demonstrate how to use prescribed reference books and other resources to gain relevant information.
  • Dissect, draw and label two different flowers.
  • Collect and identify the shapes of different leaves.
  • Demonstrate how to identify between family, genus, species, variety and cultivar.
  • Describe how to prune different plants.
  • Demonstrate how to cut wood correctly, on the correct angle and section of the stem.
  • Describe how to plant a plant.
  • Demonstrate an awareness of different irrigation equipment, sprinklers, pumps and turf systems available by listing their comparative advantages and disadvantages.
  • Demonstrate competence in selecting an appropriate irrigation system for a garden, explaining why that system would be preferred.
  • Define water pressure and flow rate and how to calculate each.
  • Explain the need for regular maintenance of garden tools and equipment.
  • List factors that should be considered when comparing types of machinery for use in garden maintenance.
  • Describe the soil types commonly found in plant culture in terms of texture, structure and water-holding and nutrient holding capacity.
  • Describe methods of improving soil structure, infiltration rate, water holding capacity, drainage and aeration.
  • List the elements essential for plant growth.
  • Diagnose the major nutrient deficiencies that occur in ornamental plants and prescribe treatment practices.
  • Describe soil pH and its importance in plant nutrition.
  • Describe the process by which salting occurs and how to minimise its effect.
  • Conduct simple inexpensive tests on three different potting mixes and report accordingly.
  • Describe suitable soil mixes for container growing of five different types of plants.
  • List a range of both natural and artificial fertilizers.
  • Describe fertilizer programs to be used in five different situations with ornamental plants
  • Demonstrate propagation of six (6) different plants by cuttings and three from seed.
  • Construct a simple inexpensive cold frame.
  • Mix and use a propagation media suited to propagating both seed and cuttings.
  • Describe the method and time of year used to propagate different plant varieties.
  • Describe and demonstrate the steps in preparing and executing a variety of grafts and one budding technique.
  • Explain the reasons why budding or grafting are sometimes preferred propagation methods.
  • Explain in general terms the principles of pest, disease and weed control and the ecological (biological) approach to such control.
  • Explain the host‑pathogen‑environment concept.
  • Describe a variety of pesticides for control of pests, diseases and weeds of ornamental plants in terms of their active constituents, application methods, timing and rates, and safety procedures.
  • Photograph or prepare specimens, identify and recommend control practices for at least five insect pests of ornamental plants.
  • Photograph, sketch or prepare samples, identify and recommend control practices for three non‑insect ornamental plant health problems (e.g. fungal, viral, bacterial).
  • Describe the major ways in which diseases (fungal, viral, bacterial and nematode) affect turf, the life cycle features that cause them to become a serious problem to turf culture and the methods available for their control.
  • Identify, describe and recommend treatment for three different weed problems.
  • Collect, press, mount and identify a collection of ten different weeds, and recommend chemical and non-chemical treatments which may be used to control each.
  • List and compare the relative advantages and disadvantages of different weed control methods.

Working in Landscaping

Landscape contractors and tradesmen actually create the landscape. Sometimes they may design it as well, and sometimes they do not. Designing a landscape is a job that requires a mixture of artistic and practical skills, but not necessarily the ability to do the planting, build a rockery or fence, install a drain or lay paving. The physical construction of a garden is the job of the contractor, and their work teams.

Constructing a landscape is a job that has a beginning and end and because of that fact, most people who build the landscape, will work as a contractor or for a contractor. This type of work is often called 'hard landscaping' because it involves working with hard materials such as bricks, paving, and concrete.

Landscape contractors need to be not only skilled at construction, but also competent businessmen; able to evaluate the costs involved in undertaking a project and produce an estimate or quotation. They need to be able to organise sub-contractors and any additional staff to undertake a project.

On large jobs (commercial and public projects), the duration and scope of a project can be immense and a landscape contractor may need to work under direction from a landscape architect or designer, and/or a project manager. On larger projects, the contractor may spend a lot of their time organising materials and equipment, and giving instructions to a large team of employees. Often landscape contractors who head bigger firms will complain that they never get to actually do any physical work, and they spend most of their time behind a desk, in a car or talking to people.

In contrast, a smaller contractor may work alone or in partnership with one other - mostly on small residential projects, engaging sub-contractors or employing additional staff on occasion - as and when the need arises. These smaller contractors need to be able to do  anything that is required, from planting to weed control,  laying pavers, building retaining walls and fences, creating drainage systems, installing garden furnishings, spreading gravel  and operating small machinery.

Other landscape gardeners may specialise in 'soft landscaping'. That is, they work predominantly with soft materials such as soil and plants. These landscapers may work independently or in conjunction with hard landscapers whereby they come up with the planting design to complement the construction work, and they implement it. They may also deal with things like removing or replacing other plants, pruning existing plants, conditioning the soil, installing containers or window boxes, balcony and roof terrace design, and so forth. In much the same way that landscape contractors, or hard landscapers, may sometimes deal with plants and soft materials, soft landscapers may use some hard materials e.g. installing wall fountains or trellis panels, fences, etc. That said, they mainly focus on plants. 


Reference Books
ACS operates a student bookshop that supplies a range of horticulture texts to supplement our courses.

"Starting a Garden or Landscape Business" by John Mason (Our principal), is a particularly valuable read for anyone considering a career or business in landscaping. This book has sold thousands over the years, and we've had a lot of feedback from people who have used this asa a starting point to establish what has grown into a very successful landscape business.

  • Student discounts are available to anyone studying with ACS Distance Education.
  • Both printed books and ebooks (as downloads) available

How Will You Benefit?

  • Follow your passion
  • Fast track business or employment opportunities in landscape gardening
  • Save money and time -no traveling to classes
  • You determine when, where and how long your study sessions are
  • More support than most colleges - we have a whole team of horticulturists spread across Australia, England and beyond; accessed whenever you need them, via email, phone or online chat.
  • Develop a deeper understanding of landscape design, construction and maintenance.
  • Make better decisions about the building, management and care of landscapes
  • Build networking connections in the landscape and garden industry
  • Be more aware of opportunities that may otherwise have passed you by
  • As a graduate, receive free career and business advice from our staff -yours for the asking.

Employment Opportunities

  • Start your own business as a landscaper and/or gardener
  • Become a garden designer
  • Contract your services to larger businesses such as property developers, architects, planners or enginerers
  • Work in a plant nursery or garden centre as an in house expert
  • Garden renovation expert
  • Land Management -parks, residential, commercial
  • Broadcast or print media
  • Training, Teaching
UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

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

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 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.

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

Rosemary Davies (Horticulturist)

Rosemary trained in Horticulture at Melbourne Universities Burnley campus; studying all aspects of horticulture -vegetable and fruit production, landscaping, amenity, turf, aboriculture and the horticultural sciences.
Initially she worked with the Depart

Bob James (Horticulturist)

Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

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