About Our School

ACS Distance Education was established in Australia in 1979 and in the UK in 1999. It has educated hundreds of thousands of full and part-time students, many of whom have gone onto successful employment, both in industry or in their own businesses.  Today it develops and supplies courses and text books used by over 20 colleges and universities across the world. There are over 40,000 students who study ACS courses every year.

The founder and principal, John Mason, is a prominent garden writer (author of over 150 books); who has worked in both the UK and Australia. He has worked as a parks director, nurseryman and landscape designer; and holds the unique honor of being both a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture in the UK; and the Australian Institute of Horticulture. He is also a fellow of Parks and Leisure Australia, and a founding board member of the Australian Garden Council. The  school employs 55 staff across the UK, Australia, and beyond.

Our courses are unique, built around the ideas of experiential learning and problem based learning (Unlike competency based training used elsewhere, we emphasise learning more and assessment less).

Courses and service have a truly global focus.

Courses have been developed with strong industry input from around the world and are continually updated on the basis of surveys undertaken by both current students and graduates every month of the year.

The school holds high the ideals of practical education, emphasising in all courses those things which are relevant to "real life". Courses offered cater for hobby interest through to formal training in industry and the professions.


We started life as Australian Horticultural Correspondence Schools with an advertisement in Australia's Your Garden Magazine, in August 1979. One course was offered (Horticulture I), and thirty seven enrolments resulted from this first advertisement.

The school was established by John Mason, a graduate of Burnley Horticultural College who had after a career as a Parks Director, been involved lecturing horticulture and related subjects at several Melbourne colleges, including Burnley. In late 1978 he became aware that large numbers of applicants were being turned away from Burnley each year. There simply were insufficient places available for the number of people wanting to study horticulture. The answer seemed obvious. Develop distance education courses. At first John tried to secure support from the government. The college principal was very supportive; but as is often the case; bureaucracy and lack of funding made progress difficult. By mid 1999, John decided to simply write a course, and with help from a colleague who had marketing experience with CAE (Council of Adult Education); a plan was born.

Throughout the 1980's the range of courses grew; as did the staff and scope of operation. By the mid 1980's students from over 25 countries were enrolled with the school, and the percentage of overseas students was growing every year.

In 1985 we opened a retail shop which operated for 18 months. With the school continuing to grow much faster than the shop, we exited retailing (except for mail order books) in 1986.

Around this time, ACS also formed a horticultural marketing business called Let's Grow, in partnership with garden media personalities Glen Heyne in Melbourne; and Graham and Sandra Ross in Sydney.

In 1987 we started to exhibit more extensively at garden shows, farm field days and other exhibitions. We also began organising exhibitions and providing consulting services to exhibition companies.

From 1988 for 5 years, ACS contracted to organise a Garden Show as part of the Royal Melbourne Show for the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria.

In 1991, with expanding interest from the north of Australia and beyond, a second office was established in Queensland on the Gold Coast

In 1992; following changes made by the Australian government; it became possible for the first time for private colleges to obtain formal government recognition. ACS was amongst the first colleges in Victoria to make a submission and be granted Registered Training Organisation status (RTO) by the Victorian government.

Over the early to mid 1990s' various other accreditations were sought and achieved. By the late 1990's most of the courses offered did have some form of formal accreditation. At this stage, the bureaucracy and costs involved with accreditation were escalating rapidly. An assessment was undertaken. We determined that "accreditations" were adding 25% to the cost of operation. We surveyed employers and students; and carefully studied old records. It was obvious that in reality, government accreditations had neither increased enrolments, nor had given any appreciable benefits to students or graduates. We did however see some benefits from a few non government accreditations or associations that had been developed.

It was decided at that point that the ethical and financially pragmatic thing to do was to reduce resources put into government accreditation. This would allow a higher % of resources to be put into provision of service to students; and to keep course fees from rising too high.

In 1989 ACS licensed Home Study College of South Africa to represent it in that country. Many ACS courses were offered and delivered in that part of the world through HSA following that deal.

The 90's also saw another major change in the school with the introduction of the internet.

ACS was one of the first colleges to put significant resources into developing web sites; and following that into developing an online training system. As such, the profile of ACS web sites grew well beyond what would have been expected for a small college that it was. It maintains an extremely strong web presence even today, because of the foundation laid in the early and mid 1990's.

With this expanded web presence came an increased international awareness of ACS and our unique range of courses. This attracted attention from many quarters.

In the late 1990's courses were sold or licensed to a number of other countries.

The government of Bermuda purchased rights to the ACS Certificate in Horticulture, to use in developing horticultural training for that country. One of the United States largest mail order plant nurseries (Pacifica), purchased rights to the same Certificate in Horticulture, and began teaching this program from a new 400 acre botanic gardens in Oregon.

In 2002, a separate but affiliated institution (a sister school and office) was established in the UK, offering all of the same courses, but with local tutors and student support for the UK, Europe and surrounding regions. Since that time, the UK branch of ACS has grown rapidly, and today accounts for around one third of our global business.

Apart from teaching; ACS has also always been involved in publishing. From the early 1980's for around 15 years, ACS principal John Mason, wrote regularly for Grass Roots Magazine. In 1983 the school began regularly contributing to garden magazines which continues till today - ranging from Home Farmer magazine in the UK to the Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria Journal in Australia.

Over a period of more than 40+ years, John Mason and staff at the school have also written over 200 books, many for national and international publishers including Kangaroo Press (Simon & Schuster), Leisure Press (New York), Harper Collins, CSIRO/Landlinks Press and Hyland House.

Throughout the 21st Century ACS has continued to grow internationally. By 2003 it was becoming very obvious that the future growth was more overseas than just in Australia. ACS now employs staff worldwide. The two main offices today are in Queensland , Australia; and Stourbridge in England.   

 In 2005 ACS set up an affiliates program licensing it's courses to a range of other colleges. Over the following years other institutions (including Warwickshire College and Academy of Distance Learning, in the UK), started delivering ACS courses. Today we have well established affiliations with around 20 institutions across seven countries, and as a group, by 2014 around 10,000 students a year were undertaking our courses.
Another big innovation happened in 2011, when we established our own in house publishing business, with the aim of producing reference books that were developed specifically to support our courses. This was prompted by increasing instability in the mainstream publishing industry and a decline in reliable supply of texts from other sources. Today, ACS is in the enviable position of owning the copyright to not only the course notes but also the bulk of supplementary reading text books used in our courses.