Learn to design natural looking gardens for low maintenance indigenous plants. Learn about different types of natural gardens in this online distance learning course.

Course Code: BHT215
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Creating innovative plans for low maintenance natural gardens can be readily achieved once you develop an understanding of how the natural environment works.


A natural garden frequently makes use of the indigenous flora, or native plants of a particular area. It might make use of other plants as well. Your choice of plants for a natural garden will largely depend upon what affect you are trying to achieve. To appear informal a natural garden should have curves rather than being angular; is informal rather than formal and tends to incorporate nature rather than manipulate it.

This course develops your ability to design any type of natural garden (bush garden, woodland garden, using either indigenous plants or a mixture of both indigenous and other plants).


There are 8 lessons in this course as follows:

1. Introduction to Natural, Wild and Bush Gardens

  • What is a Natural Garden
  • Natural Gardens in Different Countries
  • Soils
  • Mulches
  • Resources

2.  History of Natural, Wild and Bush Gardens

  • Introduction
  • History and contributors to the Natural Garden movement
  • Theories of Natural Gardening
  • History of Gardening
  • Capability Brown
  • Jeckyll
  • Jens Jensen
  • Margery Fish
  • Edna Walling
  • Ellis Stones

3. Developing Concept Plans

  • Landscape Design Principles
  • Qualities of Landscape Components
  • Creating Effects
  • Collecting Pre Planning Details
  • Drawing Plans
  • Design Procedure

4. Plants for Natural Gardens

  • Planting
  • Plant Establishment
  • Building Raised Beds
  • Mulching
  • Nutrition
  • Plant Propagation, species variation, provenance seed source
  • Plants for Temperate Wild Gardens
  • Plant Maintenance

5. Planting Design in Natural Gardens

  • Copying Nature
  • Understanding Successions
  • Planting Design
  • Three Tier Planting
  • Aesthetic Criteria for Planting Design
  • Procedures for Planting Design
  • Plant Application; trees, shrubs, groundcovers, vines and creepers
  • Natural Weed Control
  • Invasive Plants
  • Managing Plant Health
  • Types of Natural Gardens
  • Rainforest Gardens
  • Meadow Gardens
  • Woodland Gardens
  • Desert Gardens
  • Xeriscapes

6. Garden Features

  • Pathways
  • Ornamentation
  • Walls
  • Rockeries
  • Artificial Rocks
  • Terraces and Patios
  • Drainage and Erosion

7. Natural Gardens Today

  • Introduction
  • Wildlife
  • Landscaping a Wildlife Garden
  • Birds, Reptiles, Mammals
  • Ponds
  • Attracting and Feeding Birds
  • Considering Shaded Areas
  • Ferns

8. Bringing It All Together.

  • Massed Plantings
  • Drifts
  • Spotting feature plantings
  • Geometric Plantings

Duration: 100 hours


  • Explain the concept of natural gardens.
  • Prepare concept plans for different natural gardens.
  • Plan the incorporation of appropriate plants into a natural garden design.
  • Plan the appropriate incorporation of non-living landscape features in a natural garden.
  • Produce detailed plans for a natural garden.


Here are just some of the things you will be doing:

  • Explain the historical development of natural garden design, in your locality.
  • Analyse plant inter-relationships within a specific natural environment (e.g. an area of wnational park).
  • Analyse the design of different natural gardens.
  • Explain, using illustrations, concepts of landscape design, showing their relevance to natural garden design, including: *Unity *Balance *Proportion *Harmony *Contrast *Rhythm *Line *Form *Mass *Space *Texture *Colour *Tone.
  • Develop alternative natural garden concept plans for the same specified site.
  • Collect pre-planning information for a site for a proposed natural garden, by conducting a site survey, and interviewing a prospective client.
  • Explain, through a sequence of illustrations, a logical process of developing a design for a natural garden, on a specific site you survey.
  • Prepare concept plans for two small natural gardens, including: *A rainforest garden *A sclerophyll garden.
  • List different plants suitable for use in a natural garden design, of a specific style on a specified site, in your locality.
  • Explain compatibility considerations, when selecting different plants to include in the same natural garden design.
  • Develop a nursery customer information sheet, to provide guidelines for planting design of a natural garden.
  • Prepare a plant collection of relevant plants, which includes: *A photo, drawing or pressed specimen of each plant *Plant names (scientific and common) *Cultural details *Uses/applications in garden design.
  • Prepare planting designs for three different styles of low maintenance garden beds, between 30 and 60 square meters each in size, and using only Australian Native plants.
  • Explain design options for different landscape features in a natural garden, including: *Rockeries *Patios *Water features *Paths.
  • Describe the characteristics, including: *Cost *Availability *Longevity *Appearance *Maintenance, of ten different landscape materials, suited for use in a natural garden design.
  • Design a water feature for a natural garden, incorporating: *Concept drawings *Materials list *Cost estimates *Guidelines for construction.
  • Explain, using illustrations, the structural design of a masonry garden wall.
  • Explain, using illustrations, different appropriate applications for timber structures in a natural garden design.
  • Prepare plans, including structural diagrams and materials lists, for the construction of three different landscape features, which are appropriate for inclusion in a natural garden.
  • Develop a design "Brief" for a natural garden, in consultation with a client, through an interview and site inspection.
  • Design a natural garden of 200 to 500 square metres, including: *A landscape plan drawn on tracing paper *Materials specifications, including types and quantities, to suit a site surveyed by you, and emphasising one type of plant, such as ferns, wild flowers or sclerophyll type plants.
  • Prepare a detailed professional standard plan for a natural garden of 500 to 2000 square metres, to an acceptable industry standard for a professional garden designer, which includes: *A landscape plan drawn on tracing paper *Materials specifications, including types and quantities.
  • Explain the purpose behind decisions made by you in a natural garden designed by you.


A natural bush garden can be anything which attempts to simulate a natural environment. For reduced maintenance it must aim to be an area where the created garden will inhibit the growth of unwanted weeds through close planting and mulching. For a wilderness or bush garden the design must be informal.

Consider the whole atmosphere including scents and sounds. The garden should be alive with chattering birds, fluttering butterflies and lizards lounging on warm rocks. Underfoot should be spongy with mulch smelling of earth and eucalyptus. A bush garden is more than just trees and shrubs. Try to include all of the low-growing herbs, grasses, lilies, and so on of the understory. Many of these, plus most of the other plants included, could produce edible crops.

Many of the best bush gardens recreate a specific natural habitat, such as the following:

  1. Open woodland - with groundcovers, climbers, grasses, shrubs and trees. This is the quintessential bush garden, and is suited to many areas of Australia. The plants typically withstand dry conditions and poor soils, although they will respond well to water and native plant fertilisers. One drawback is the plants are naturally adapted to bushfires – some contain volatile oils; others contain flammable bark or have other strategies that promote the spread of fire – so this must be considered if you live in an area that experiences bushfires.
  2. An indigenous habitat - featuring only plants growing naturally in the local area.
  3. A heathland - comprising mainly shrubs and groundcovers with showy flowers; many of these plants are from south-western Australia and require well-drained, infertile soils and low humidity. A heathland garden might include dryandras, isopogons, lambertias, epacris and grevilleas.
  4. A rainforest - with ferns, palms, orchids, trees and climbers; a rainforest garden requires a protected position, effective irrigation and improved soils.
  5. An alpine habitat - the higher peaks in Tasmania, Victoria and southern New South Wales contain many small-growing alpine gems. They need low humidity and cool to temperate conditions. Many need excellent drainage; others are adapted to wet, boggy soils. In gardens, they are best grown in rockeries, where they can be appreciated up close, and where their required conditions can be easily maintained.
  6. A desertscape –with mostly low growing hardy plants, sparse taller plants, and exposed areas of stone or ground. This type of garden attempts to simulate the desert and may be the most appropriate landscape style for an arid area. It may also be created in a less arid area for the visual affect. If plants are being used that are indigenous to a more arid area, you may need to install extra drainage, use sandier soils and plant on mounds to keep the soil drier for those plants.

When designing a native garden consider:

  • How things fit together in the bush – trees, shrubs, grasses, rocks, leaf 
    litter and natural water courses.
  • What makes up a bush garden – not just the plants, but also the native 
    birds and animals, soil, rocks, etc.
  • How you will put it all together and maintain it over time.

Strictly speaking, a bush garden should use combinations of plants which occur together in the natural landscape.  In other areas of the world, the term 'wild garden' will reflect the same concepts. 

For example, in Australia eucalypts which occur naturally close to Sydney should not be planted alongside Banksias which are exclusively native to Western Australia. 

Naturalistic or bush style gardens were given a bad name in the past because little was understood about their care.  This meant that most people thought that native plants required no care or pruning! The native gardens of the 1970’s are testament to this approach, with many becoming woody, overgrown and ugly. These days though, we know that you should treat most Australian natives in a similar way to any exotic plant - give them the right soil conditions, feed those that need it, and prune them to shape or tip prune to extend juvenility. Using that approach your garden can look as good as any well-cared for exotic garden.

Many people also do not realise that not all Australian plants are appropriate for a dry (bush) garden – but of course many are.  Look for plants that come from the drier parts of the continent, rather than the wetter coastal areas.  Many of these, such as Darwinia and Eremophila species also have spectacular flowers. Some species will do well in both dry and moist conditions and these are well worth including in any native garden as you then have all possibilities covered (during drought conditions or wetter years).  Melaleucas, Acacias, and Banksias all prefer moister soil but will withstand periods of dry conditions. Always do a bit of research into the plants you would like to include before going ahead and buying them – also ask experts or go to nurseries that specialise in native plants as they tend to have the most knowledge and can help you make the right choices for your conditions.

When setting out your bush garden, provide plenty of light for your plants.  Avoid plants with dense vegetation and don’t place them too close together. This is the most common mistake made by most gardeners – overplanting only to find that later they have an overcrowded dark garden that needs serious money spent on it to rectify the problem. If you are including trees in your garden (every bush garden should have at least one gum tree), make sure they won’t shade out other plants that require sunny conditions.    Spacing plants and creating some open spaces also allows you create features with rocks, ground formations, old logs and water.
When plants are combined in the way in which they occur naturally, it is reasonable to assume that none of them will compete with each other too strongly (i.e. they should grow in harmony and not choke each other out of existence).  When plants which do not occur naturally together are planted together, it is possible that some will be much stronger growing varieties than others and that these will gradually gain dominance - while others will find it harder to compete and eventually disappear.

Benefits of Studying This Course

  • Become proficient in designing gardens and urban landscapes incorporating natural elements.
  • Learn how to design different styles of natural garden – bush, woodland, meadow, rainforest, desert.
  • Discover how to use different natural elements in gardens and ways to attract wildlife.
  • Incorporate natural garden design into an existing landscaping business or provide a niche natural gardens business.
  • Update your skills.
  • Be guided by professional tutors on your learning journey. 


Career Prospects

  • Landscape gardener
  • Garden designer
  • Gardener
  • Permaculturist
  • Ecologist
  • Parks and leisure industry worker

Member of the International Herb Association since 1988

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

Principal John Mason has been a member of the International Society of Horticultural Science, since 2003

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

Maggi Brown

Maggi is the classic UK "plantswoman". She can identify thousands of plants, and maintains her own homes and gardens in the Cotswolds (England), and near Beziers (in Southern France). Maggi is regarded as a leading organics expert across the UK, having w

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