Certificate In Garden Design

Course CodeVHT012
Fee CodeCT
Duration (approx)600 hours

Become a Garden Designer


Work from home and tailor a business to your lifestyle

A garden design service can be offered in the following ways....

a/ A consultation only visit, give verbal advice

b/ A concept plan, a plan drawn to scale, but lacking detail - only providing a broad concept

c/ A plan drawn to detail, showing planting details, specifying other features and components but not specifying the construction detail of hard landscaping (e.g. The plan may indicate the location of a wall and say it is to be built with stone, but it won't specify foundations, drainage etc to be incorporated into the wall)

d/ Full landscape plans and specifications    These contain full and fine detail, including construction details of structures (e.g. a plan of how to build a wall showing the drainage, foundations etc.)


Course Content

 There are 30 lessons are outlined as follows:

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 Sclerophyl
  • 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



This is an industry that has a deficiency of capable people. Surveys in recent years in Australia, the UK, and some other countries have show a growing demand for landscape and horticulture experts. The duration and content of many government sponsored courses have unfortunately come under financial and other pressures; and industry recognises that there are simply not enough people who can draw good plans and know how to select the right plants for appropriate situations.

This certificate is substantial in content, and duration. It may take longer than some other landscape certificates (offered elsewhere), but in our experience, graduates from this course tend to be able to produce better plans, work with a wider range of plant cultivars, and do the job faster and with greater confidence.

If you can talk to clients with more confidence, present more options for their gardens and produce better plans faster; your career is going to be assured in this industry.

Examples of Tasks Undertaken In This Course

The following are only some of the activities that the student will undertake in this course.
  • 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 five 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 three 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 (completed within the last 4 months). 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. This plan should cover at least 5 years. 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 bush garden.
  • Design a bush garden using mainly ferns, for a small courtyard of specified dimensions

Course Aims

  • 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.

DURATION: 600 hours

ASSESSMENT:  You must satisfactorily complete all assignments and pass two 1.5 hour exams.

Garden Design is both an Art Form and a Science

Learning to design gardens well, involves both learning to apply artistic and practical principles; and blend those considerations in a balanced way. Developing your skills in garden design takes study, experience, and other attributes that are next to impossible to define; but tend to become self evident over time, in the designers who excel.
Using Colour is one Way of Creating a Statement in Garden Design
There are lots of ways you can add colour to a garden. The first decision will usually be deciding which colour or colours to introduce. Your choice may help you transform your garden.
  •  It all depends on the surrounding colours and the light.
  • Go for contrast if you want to brighten up an area.
  • Pastel colours can look great in bright light but may lose their impact in heavy shade.

Paint or Render a Wall
For year-round colour in the garden, it’s hard to beat a painted or rendered wall. If you have a dark, shady garden then a pale-coloured wall will bring a sense of light and brightness. Natural, earthy tones look good in a brightly sunlit courtyard or garden. Alternatively, you could make a bold statement with more vibrant colours – perhaps yellows, blues or even oranges.

Bright colours will bring the wall to life and make it a strong feature in the garden.  Darker colours will create depth, provide contrast, and create the illusion of a larger garden. Another option is to paint a mural on your wall – you could include pictures of birds, flowers, trees, and even the ocean.  
Add Colourful Furniture
Many people think of natural timber or using shades of brown or green when selecting or painting their garden furniture. However, brighter colours can also be used. Plastic tables and chairs now come in a range of attractive colours to suit any landscape and, of course, timber can be painted in any colour you desire.

Install a Colourful Garden Arch
Metal garden arches are usually painted white or federation green, while timber arches are either painted in similar safe colours or stained to preserve the natural appearance of the wood. However, there’s no reason why they can’t be painted in stronger eye-catching shades. For an all-over fresh look to the garden, paint garden pots, window trims and outdoor furniture the same colour as the arch.

Mulch Garden Beds with Coloured Pebbles
Mulch doesn’t have to be made from organic materials such as wood chips and straw.  In fact, inorganic mulches such as pebbles and gravel will last a lot longer.  They are also well-suited to dryland gardens. Coloured mulches can add a whole extra dimension to the colours in your garden.  White or sandstone-coloured pebbles can brighten up a dull corner of the garden, red scoria will contrast with green foliage, whilst black pebbles can be used to give a classy dramatic look to the garden bed.

Use Coloured Pots
Grow some plants in coloured pots.  Select a pot colour that will complement or contrast with the foliage or flowers.  For example, use a purple pot for a purple or yellow flowering plant. 

Many terracotta pots are now glazed with various colours.  Rich, deep shades of blue or red have become particular favourites.  Check out your local nursery or garden centre to see what is available. 

Create a Trompe L’oeil
A trompe l’oeil introduces a touch of whimsy to the garden. A favourite design trick is to paint a scene – often a garden or pastoral outlook – on a wall framed by a false archway or window. Not only does the trompe l’oeil transform a mundane space into a special feature, it makes the garden seem larger than it really is.

Add Some Annual Flowers
This is a tried and tested way of adding some quick colour to your garden.  First, pick up a punnet or two of seedlings and some liquid fertiliser from your local nursery.  Choose from whatever flowering annuals are in season. Then plant out the seedlings in a prepared bed.  Apply liquid fertiliser regularly and within weeks you will have a colourful display.  If you continue to apply fertiliser and protect them from snails and slugs, the plants will continue to provide flowers for months.  

Coloured Foliage Plants
Not all plants have green leaves! Many plants have highly ornamental foliage in shades of purple, yellow and red. Some plants produce these colours on the new growth, while others retain them all year round. 

Change the Colour of a Path
An unprepossessing concrete path can be livened up with a coat of paint or edged with coloured pavers or pebbles.

To give a new look to a paved area, pull up some of the pavers and replace them with pebbles in a contrasting colour. Not only does it add new colour to the area, it’s a great way to add textural interest.

Use Colourful Banners or Awnings
With increasing awareness of the dangers of UV sunlight, many people are now adding sails and protective awnings in their backyards.  These don’t have to detract from the look of the garden.  Indeed, with the right choice of colour, they can be a great way to express your personality.  Parasols are also being made in a variety of protective and colourful fabrics that blend with outdoor furniture.  

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.



  • An effective training program for people working, or wishing to work, in the landscape industry; either in their own business, or at a supervisory level for someone else. 
  • Develops both your design skills, as well as basic knowledge in other areas of concern to the landscaper (e.g. horticultural practices, management, plant identification and use, and marketing).
  • On completion of this course the student should be able to draw landscape plans, compile specifications, and prepare cost estimates.







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