Natural Garden Design

Course CodeBHT215
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Learn about the appropriate planning and planting techniques to the design of natural gardens.

A natural garden is one that appears to be a relatively natural occurrence: not look contrived or overly planned by people and not maintained with any substantial input by people.

It frequently makes use of the indigenous flora, or native plants of a particular area

Natural gardens however may (in fact) be planned and may require routine maintenance.

They can be relatively low maintenance gardens, if established properly. 

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  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
    • Jekyll
    • 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


  • 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.

What You Will Do

  • 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 bushland).
  • Analyse the design of three natural gardens, in an essay illustrated with photographs or sketches.
  • 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 three 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 surveyed by you.
  • Prepare concept plans for two small natural gardens, including: *A rainforest garden *A sclerophyll garden.
  • List fifty 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 fifty 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 six 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, wildflowers 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.


Problems arise with the definitions of ‘nature’ and ‘native’.  Native plants have been defined as being anything from local or regional to national and even continental.  The terms indigenous or endemic should be used with care, as they are generally regarded as “scientific” terms.

In the United States there is also debate as to what should be deemed native from a historical context.  Some would argue that only plants which date back to prior to the original European settlement of 1492 should be labelled native.   Others have suggested that any plants that have been there for 200 years should be considered native.   The term ‘naturalised’ may be used for plants which are not truly native, but have been long-established in a country or area: e.g. 70 species of Eucalypt, (native trees from different parts of Australia), are found in Cyprus but only a very few - perhaps 6 species - have recorded there for sufficiently long periods to be regarded as ‘naturalised’ and thus included in the native flora.

Definitions of terms:

  • Native: originating in a specific place – kangaroos are native to Australia (Collins English Dictionary 1979 edition)
  • Natural: existing in or produced by nature (Collins English Dictionary 1979 edition)
  • Indigenous: originating or occurring naturally, not imported (Collins English Dictionary 1979 edition)
  • Endemic: present within a localised area (Collins English Dictionary 1979 edition): a plant that is confined to a certain limited area; for example Cedrus libani subsp. brevifolia is found only on the island of Cyprus – it is endemic to the island.

The term ‘nature’ has been applied to natural gardens with no less ambiguity.  Given that nature is a construct created by man, what is included within nature is perhaps best considered in relation to social, cultural, political and aesthetic influences of the period in history and the country.

Natural gardens can take on many different forms within the same country since there can be a vast array of flora and fauna and different natural landscapes.

With the right mix of plant and animal species it is possible to develop a sustainable and balanced ecosystem.

How To Develop A Natural Garden

1) Get the Groundwork Right
The soil should be good. If it’s not, then apply plenty of organic mulch. Over time, this will decompose, encourage earthworms, provide nutrients to the plants, and retain moisture.

Make sure the levels are right. You might need to reshape the ground. Try to gain an understanding of where the water flows and collects, and if some areas will be drier or wetter.

Build structures (e.g. fences, walls, buildings) that will provide shade, windbreaks and so on before planting.

2) Choose Your Plants
You can’t hope to get the plant mix right if you don’t first understand how soil, light, moisture, drainage, wind and such things will vary from place to place around the garden.

You also need to think carefully about how plants fit together. A big shady tree and a small sun-loving shrub do not go together well. Likewise, a vigorous ground cover plant and a much weaker growing ground cover plant cannot thrive side by side.

3) Nurturing Wildlife
A natural garden needs animals as well as plants in order to work (not just the obvious larger animals - but birds, earthworms, insects, fungi, small mammals, reptiles, fish, etc). The presence of wildlife not only makes the garden more interesting, but it also helps to maintain a natural balance. For instance, birds and reptiles eat insects, fish and frogs eat mosquito larvae in ponds or puddles. Fungi help to decay and dispose of dead animal and plant matter, eventually contributing nutrients to the soil which are taken up by your plants as valuable food sources.

If you're serious about the natural garden, then don’t keep domestic pets and don’t spray chemicals. Both can interfere with or kill beneficial animals.

4) Getting Advice
Not all garden advisors, horticulturists, or even environmental experts are experts in all areas of horticulture. Even professional garden designers need to seek help from colleagues who know more than they do. 
Recognise your strengths and weaknesses; and seek advice in areas you are uncertain -whether by contacting other experts, or researching information in books or on the internet.

Some native plant nurserymen can be very helpful, as can a local indigenous plant group. Environmental scientists, landscapers, botanists, organic gardening experts or qualified permaculture designers may each be able to provide useful advice.



  • Landscapers
  • Garden designers
  • Home garden enthusiasts
  • Environmentalists




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