Permaculture Systems

Course CodeBHT201
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Learn to Become a Permaculture Designer - Gain a PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate)

The term 'permaculture' comes from the words 'PERMAnent' and 'agriCULTURE', and implies the permanence of culture. The term was first devised in 1978 by Bill Mollison (an Australian ecologist) and his student David Holmgren.

It embraces three main ethical principles as follows: 1) "Care of the Earth" - this includes all living things and non living things which together comprise the environment (i.e. animals, plants, land, water and air). 2) "Care of People" - permaculture systems should be developed to promote self reliance and community responsibility. 3) “Fair Share” - set limits to consumption and reproduction, and redistribute surplus - pass on anything surplus to an individual's needs (e.g. labour, information or money) in an attempt to pursue the above aims.

Implicit in the above is the 'Life Ethic': all living organisms are not only means, but ends. In addition to their instrumental value to humans and other living organisms, they have an intrinsic worth."

As such Permaculture stresses a positive approach and an attitude of cooperation, with respect to the environment and all living things.

Add to your permaculture skills

  • Study this course to broaden your understanding of permaculture applications.
  • This fully immersive course is extremely detailed covering a vast amount of ground including what the different growing methods are which underlie permaculture, how it is informed from observation of the science of natural systems, and how this information is used to establish zonal planning.
  • Students get to design and plan their own permaculture system to complete the course. 

Learn from experts with decades of experience in permaculture, sustainable growing, horticulture & agriculture.

Course Structure and Lesson Content

There are eight lessons as outlined below:

Lesson 1. Permaculture Principles

Permaculture principles and ethics, Principles of Design (Relative location, Multiple Functions, Multiple Elements, Elevational Planning, Biological Resources, Energy Recycling, Natural Selection, Maximise Edges, Diversity); Permaculture Relationships to other Systems, Sustainable Agriculture, Organic Growing, No Dig Gardening, Sheet Composting, Not Till Planting, No Dig Raised Beds, Crop Rotation, Cover Cropping, Composting, Companion Planting, Pest and Disease Prevention, Biological Control

Lesson 2.   Natural Systems

The Ecosystem (Abiotic and Biotic components), Ecological Concepts, Biomass, Climate, Microclimates, Water, Water and Plant Growth, Maximising Plant Water, Arid Landscapes, Irrigation, Swales, Waste Water Treatments, Reed Beds, Aquatic Environments, The Hydrological Cycle, Rainfall, Evaporation, Infiltration, Effective Rain, Soil Environments (Micro organisms, Organic Matter, Soil Degradation and rehabilitation, Erosion, Salinity, Acidification), Managing Wildlife in a Permaculture System, Structure, Structure of a Permaculture System, Stacking, Successions.

Lesson 3.  Zone and Sector Planning

Five Standard Zones, Sectors (sun, Cold, Windy etc), Site selection, Pre planning information, Staged procedure for concept design.

Lesson 4.  Permaculture Techniques

Forests and trees, Trees as energy transducers, Forest types (Fuel, Forage, Shelterbelt, Animal barrier, Structural, Conservation), Establishing a forest, Sector/Zone Analysis, Firebreak, Windbreak, Mandala Gardens, Keyhole beds, Water bodies, Pond design, Pond construction,

Lesson 5.  Animals in Permaculture

Locating animals in a system, Function of animals in Permaculture, Bees, Poultry, Mobile Tractor Systems, Pigs, Grazing animals, Fencing, Water supply, Shelter, Birds, Earthworms, Aquaculture

Lesson 6.  Plants in Permaculture

Vegetable Growing Hints, Soil Management for plants, Organic fertilizers, Animal manures, Liquid feeds, Rock dusts, Legumes (Nitrogen fixing), Mycorrhyzae, Mulch, Weed Management, Pest Control, Culture of a large range of plants suited to permaculture, in different environments (including: Asparagus, Black locust, Cassava, Chicory, Dandelion, Endive, Fennel, Garlic, Ginger, Horseradish, Leek, Mint, Okra, Pigface, Rhubarb, Sweet Potato, Taro, Warrigal Greens, Water Cress, Water Spinach, Yam, Apple, Apricot, Cherry, Citrus, Fig, Loquat, Nashi Pear, Olive, Peach, Pear, Plum, Quince, Avocado, Banana, Carambola, Coconut, Custard Apple, Guava, Mango, Paw Paw, Pepino, Pineapple, Grape, Passionfruit, Kiwi fruit, Strawberry, Raspberry, Currant, Gooseberry, Mulberry, Blueberry, Brambles, Elderberry, Cranberry, Nuts, Fodder Trees, etc.).

Lesson 7.  Appropriate Technologies

For example; Solar energy, Wind Energy, Methane, Bio fuel power, Composting Toilets, Energy efficient housing, Living fences (hedges, hedgerows etc), Water recycling (grey water and constructed wetland).

Lesson 8.  Preparing a Plan

Design for natural disasters, Drawing a Plan, Preparing a final design

Several plans will be prepared by the student, including one major design.

What You May Do In This Course

  • Differentiate between Permaculture and other sustainable systems.
  • Explain the procedures followed in practising different techniques which are sympathetic to Permaculture, including: No-dig gardening, Companion Planting, Biological control, and Sustainable harvesting.
  • Explain the interactions that occur between living and non-living components in five different natural environments, including: Forest Systems, Aquatic Environments, Soil Environments, and Arid Environments.
  • Evaluate different Permaculture designs against the nine Permaculture principles.
  • Distinguish between different garden zones in a Permaculture system.
  • Explain sector planning in a specific garden design.
  • Design a mandala garden for a specific site.
  • Determine the appropriate use of swales on a sloping site.
  • Investigate distinctly different Permaculture systems.
  • Explain three different cultural techniques used to minimise the maintenance requirement, in Permaculture systems you study.
  • Determine different animal breeds, which can provide a useful and sustained harvest from a permaculture system in your locality.
  • Describe the harvest, treatment and use of various products derived from different types of animals in a Permaculture system.
  • Explain the factors which can affect the success of different types of animals, in a Permaculture system, including: Poultry, Aquatic animals, Domestic farm animals, Insects, Earthworms.
  • Describe the husbandry of one specified type of animal, in a Permaculture system visited by you.
  • Determine different species of plants which can provide a useful, sustained harvest from a Permaculture system.
  • Describe the harvest, treatment and use of various products derived from twenty different plant genera in a Permaculture system.
  • Compile a resource file of fifty information sources for different plants which can be incorporated into Permaculture systems.
  • Explain the factors which can affect the survival of different types of plants, including those used for: Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, Fibres, Building materials, and Fuel.
  • Explain the husbandry of one specified type of plant, in a Permaculture system visited by you.
  • Explain the relevance of appropriate technology to Permaculture design.
  • Compare three different waste disposal techniques which may be used for kitchen scraps in a Permaculture system.
  • Compare three different waste disposal techniques which may be used for effluent in a Permaculture system.
  • Evaluate the suitability of different building techniques in a Permaculture system.
  • Explain the application of two different systems of alternative energy in a Permaculture system.
  • Compare differences in the impact on a Permaculture system, of three alternative technologies designed for the same purpose (e.g. three alternative sources of electricity).
  • Evaluate the use of technology in a house (you choose the house).
  • Determine more "appropriate" technologies to replace currently used technologies, in a house you evaluate.
  • Illustrate on a plan, twenty different components of a design, including: Plants, Buildings, and Landscape features.
  • Transpose a simple Permaculture plan to a different scale.
  • Represent an existing site, drawn to scale, on a plan.
  • Describe the stages involved in the process of producing a Permaculture design.
  • Prepare a concept plan for a Permaculture system surveyed by you, which is between five hundred and one thousand square metres in area.
  • Prepare a detailed design for a Permaculture system of between five hundred and one thousand square metres in size, including: Scale drawings, Materials specifications, Lists of plant and animal varieties.

Course Aims

  • Explain the principles of permaculture.
  • Explain the concepts of natural systems.
  • Explain permaculture techniques involving zones and sector planning.
  • Explain a range of permaculture techniques: (forest plantings, mandala gardens, ponds etc).
  • Explain the significance of different animals in a permaculture system.
  • Select plants appropriate for inclusion in a permaculture system, to supply a useful and sustained harvest; explain their husbandry.
  • Select appropriate technologies for use in permaculture systems.
  • Draw permaculture designs (plans) to scale.

Where can you do Permaculture?

  • Farms
  • Parks
  • Home Gardens
  • Derelict Building Sites

A Permaculture system can be developed on virtually any type of site, though the plants selected and used will be restricted by the site's suitability to the needs of the varieties used. Establishing a permaculture system requires a reasonable amount of pre-planning and designing. Factors such as climate, landform, soils, existing vegetation and water availability need to be considered. Observing patterns in the natural environment can give clues to matters which may become a problem later, or which may be beneficial.

Water Needs

Water is essential for any permaculture system. The quantity required may vary greatly depending on the way a system is designed, and the demands which that design place upon water. Usually water comes into a system from a number of different sources. These almost always include rain, and may include other things such as collection facilities (eg. tanks, dams etc) or pumping from natural supplies (eg. water courses or lakes). Supplies can also be derived from purifying salt water (from the ocean), recycling, extraction from humidity in the air, etc.

Water Storage And Conservation

In most dryland areas of the world groundwater and aquifers are overused. Most of this water goes to produce animal exports products (grains and legumes). Diversion drains come in use here in leading thin sheets of runoff water to storages. Native or adapted trees are the best use of such sites, but at times of good rains, grains, melons, or vegetable crops can be grown on an opportunistic basis.

When concentrating on overland water flow we must allow a safe overflow for periods of excessive rains or we risk creating gullies. A grass or fenced downhill spillway will resist erosion.

Reusing wastewater is essential for garden crops (i.e. via pipes along a plastic–lined shallow trench).

Trickle irrigation is in wide use around the world and is very efficient. Also watering at the right times of the days is advantageous to conserving water (i.e. in the evening or at dawn).

Dryland Gardens

The desert garden is likely to suffer from light saturation (reducing photosynthesis and leaf bulk) and excess evaporation (causing wilt and slow growth). One must also contend with problems such as high pH, heat and light stress, risk of salting soils, dry winds, and poor water supply.

Mulch and compost are essential to create humus, a soil environment where trace elements can become available. A light scatter of sulphur will reduce pH.

Use of major and minor wind breaks should be constructed around the garden to create wind and sun protection (for windbreaks use trellis structures, hedges, leguminous trees or wooden fences). You may also construct a moveable shade house for young plants.

Dryland Orchards

The key to dryland areas is water supply. If there is adequate water supply any dryland area will support fruit and nut trees in an orchard. Trees include: date palm, jujube, cork oak, pistachio, white cedar, chestnut, honey locust, carob, mesquite, grape, fig, and mulberry. Other useful species are almonds, pomegranates, olives, and cactus.

Plants are generally not crowded in drylands (unlike the tropics) due to the lack of water. Orchards usually mimic natural drylands where plants are spaced so they do not compete for water and nutrients. Stones can be used as mulch because they:

  • Protect and shade roots from intense heat
  • Release stored heat to the soil at night
  • Prevent small animals damaging roots
  • Prevent winds lifting the roots
  • Cause water to condense of their surfaces on cool nights
  • Create shelter for worms and small soil organisms.

Planting trees on the edges of swales is the most successful dryland strategy. House-roof and stormwater drains lead into swales, which filter into the water table.

Why Choose This Course

  • Unique course materials (developed by our staff) and more current than some colleges (many reviewed annually); as a result, ACS graduates can be more up to date.
  • We work hard to help you understand and remember it, develop an ability to apply it in the real world, and build networks with others who work in this field (It’s more than just serving up a collection of information – if all you want is information, buy a book, but if you want an education, that takes learning to a whole new level).
  • Start whenever you want, study at your own pace, study anywhere.
  • Don’t waste time and money travelling to classes.
  • We provide more choices – courses are written to allow you more options to focus on parts of the subject that are of more interest to you; a huge range of elective subjects are offered that don’t exist elsewhere.
  • Tutors are accessible (more than elsewhere) – academics work in both the UK and Australia, 5 days a week, 16 hours a day. Answering emails and phone calls from students are top priority.
  • We treat students as individuals – don’t get lost in a crowd. Our tutors communicate with you one to one.
  • Extra help at no extra cost if needed. When you find something you cannot do, we help you through it or will provide another option.
  • Support after you finish a course – We can advise about getting work, starting  business, writing a CV, etc. We can promote students and their businesses through our extensive profile on the internet. Graduates who ask will be helped.
  • Support from a team of a dozen professional horticulturists, living in different parts of the UK, and in both temperate and tropical climate zones of Australia.

About ACS

ACS was started in 1979 by John Mason, who at the time was a gardening author, horticultural consultant and lecturer in horticulture at several colleges across Melbourne (in Australia).  Over the summer that year John discovered that there were thousands of applicants going to be turned away from horticulture courses at Burnley Horticultural College (now Melbourne University). There were simply too few courses being offered for the number of people wanting to study horticulture in Australia. This situation prompted a move to establish a correspondence course at Burnley; but after months of unsuccessful lobbying for support from government; John wrote a course, and with help from a colleague at Council of Adult Education, marketed it.

Standards were originally set in line with what were seen to be the standards of Australia's top horticultural college; and over the years, those standards have never been reduced. This makes our courses longer and more demanding than some other colleges; but it has also led to us building a credibility that stands tall in the horticulture industry across the world. 

In the early 1990's John started visiting the UK and becoming involved with the horticulture industry there. In 2003, John was formally recognised for his contribution to British Horticulture by being made a fellow of the Institute of Horticulture. ACS, as a school, established an office and staff in the UK in 2001, and has expanded considerably since then. Today it is formally affiliated with five other colleges in the UK (including Warwickshire College); all of who license and deliver ACS courses. 

A team of leading horticulturists work for the school's horticulture department, including 12 faculty members in both the UK and Australia

How You Study

  • As soon as you enrol, we send an email to explain it all.
  • We direct you to a short orientation video (downloadable over the internet) to watch, where our principal introduces you to how the course works, and how you can access all sorts of support services
  • You are either given a code to access your course online, or sent out a CD or course materials through the mail (or by courier).
  • Work through lessons one by one, each lesson typically having four parts:
    • An aim -which tells you what you should be achieving in the lesson
    • Reading -notes written and regularly revised by our academic staff
    • Set Task(s) -These are practicals, research or other experiential learning tasks that strengthen and add to what you have been reading
    • Assignment -By answering questions, submitting them to a tutor, then getting feedback from the tutor, you confirm that you are on the right track, but more than that, you are guided to consider what you have been studying in different ways, broadening your perspective and reinforcing what you are learning about
    • Other - Your work in a course rarely stops at just the above four parts. Different courses and different students will need further learning experiences. Your set task or assignment may lead to other things, interacting with tutors or people in industry, reviewing additional reference materials or something else. We treat every student as an individual and supplement their learning needs as the occasion requires.
  • We provide access to and encourage you to use a range of supplementary services including an online student room, including online library; student bookshop, newsletters, social media etc.
  • We provide a "student manual", that is a quick solution to most problems that might occur.


  • ACS has a highly respected international profile: by employers and academics alike. People are more aware of us than many other distance education schools –just do a search for “horticulture distance education courses” and see what comes up on the internet; or search for ACS Distance education on Facebook or Linked in, and see how many connections we have compared to other colleges.
  • ACS has been educating people around the world since 1979
  • Over 100,000 have now studied ACS courses, across more than 150 countries
  • Formal affiliations with colleges in five countries
  • A faculty of over 40 internationally renowned academics –books written by our staff used by universities and colleges around the world.
Extra Books or Reference Materials
  • The course provides you with everything that you need to complete it successfully.
  • Assignments may ask you to look for extra information (e.g. by contacting nurseries, visiting gardens or searching the internet), but our school's resources and tutors are always available as a back up. If you hit a "roadblock", we can quickly send you additional information or provide expert advice over the phone or email; to keep you moving in your studies.
  • Some students choose to buy additional references, to take their learning beyond what is essential for the course. If a student wants to buy books, we operate an online bookshop offering ebooks written by staff at the school. Student discounts are available if you are studying with us. The range of e books available is being expanded rapidly, with at least one new ebook being written and published by our staff every month.

Where To From Here?

This course is likely to be of value to people who have a keen interest in permaculture. It will also appeal to anyone with a general interest in natural growing systems. People who take this course are most likely those working in or aspiring to work in:

  • Permaculture design
  • Natural garden design
  • Garden design
  • Horticulture
  • Ecology
  • Nature & wildlife

The course will also be of value to people wishing to start a permaculture design business.


Contact us if you have any questions at all about the course.

Or call (outside UK) +44 (0) 1384 442752, or (UK) 01384 442752