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Natural Garden Design

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

Design and Build Natural Gardens

- an intensive course for gardeners, landscapers and amateurs who want to bring nature back into gardens.

  • Learn to develop woodland gardens, bush gardens, and other natural gardens
  • Develop a better understanding of how to create a low maintenance garden
  • 100 hour self paced course


Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction to Natural Gardens.
  2. History of Natural Gardens
  3. Developing Concept Plans
  4. Plants for Natural Gardens
  5. Planting Design in Natural Gardens
  6. Natural Garden Features
  7. Natural Gardens Today
  8. Bringing It All Together.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • 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.

Learn From Nature

If natural gardens are designed to be a reflection of nature, then plantings in a natural garden need to be based upon what occurs in nature.

One aspect of this is to understand that plants in the wild will typically grow in three tiers:

  1. Low plants crowing close to the ground
  2. Tall plants with their tops exposed to direct sunlight
  3. Middle plants, shaded from the direct light and protected from extreme conditions by the tallest plants; but not as shaded as the low plants

Level 1
This level is made up of predominantly ground-cover plants.  Low growing plant such as Waldsteinia ternata and Ajuga reptans ‘Braunherz’ both work well together as they are similar in height but have quite different textures and colours. They are ideal for enlivening a shady spot and developing the wild woodland look.

Low growing plants can also be used to create flowering lawns or meadows. As mentioned earlier, natural gardens do not normally have immaculate lawns.  A few wildflowers scattered around give a more realistic effect.   However, it is not a good idea to cast seed randomly.

In natural garden design, there will be little if any lawn. Lawn is not considered to be natural.  Instead, people are more likely to include wildflower meadows and mixes of wildflowers and native grasses that create natural-style plantings.

Where there is an existing lawn, wildflower seeds can be sown directly in spring or autumn or in ‘cells’ or ‘plugs’.  The young plants are then planted out in spring from the cell or plug, into pre-prepared holes in the lawn.  They take quite quickly, because of the root system developed in the cell or plug and will become self-perpetuating provided they are allowed to set seed before the grass is cut.
If starting a meadow-lawn from scratch in a natural garden, it is far easier to mix appropriate wildflower seed in with the grass seed from the outset.

If attempting to create a hay meadow effect then good choices of wildflower to grow in long grass would include Chrysanthemum leucanthemum (ox-eye daisy), Ranunculus sp. (buttercups), Taraxacum offinale (dandelion), Agrostemma githago (corn cockle) and Papaver rhoeas (field poppy).

In areas of shorter grass more compact species such as Primula vulgaris (primrose), Viola odorata (violet), Bellis perennis (daisy), Trifolium repens (clover) and Veronica officinalis (speedwell) are ideal.

Level 2
As expected, this level is made up of mid-height plants.  Here, shrubs and perennials are used to contribute to the natural effect.  It is better to opt for less invasive plants so as to reduce maintenance.  Also, plants that have similar requirements in terms of culture can be placed together.  For example, Lonicera sp. (honeysuckle), Sambucus nigra ssp. laciniata (cut-leaved elder), ferns, Digitalis purpurea (foxglove) and geranium species all work well together and provide interest throughout the year.

Level 3
The tallest level is made up of trees, which not only provide height but also offer interest in architectural form, foliage shape and colour and bark colour.  

Oaks, (Quercus sp.), which reputedly attract the highest number of insects in temperate regions, the common hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) with its vivid red autumn leaves, silver birch (Betulus pendula) with its shimmering white bark and the Rowans and White-beams (Sorbus sp.) with their vivid autumn colours, delicate flowers and attractive fruit all make stunning additions to the natural garden.

Do you have any questions for our Landscaping tutors? If yes, then please click here.

Meet some of our academics

Maggi BrownMaggi is regarded as an expert in organic growing throughout the UK, having worked for two decades as Education Officer at the world renowned Henry Doubleday Research Association. She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture across the UK for more than three decades. Some of Maggi's qualifications include RHS Cert. Hort. Cert. Ed. Member RHS Life Member Garden Organic (HDRA) .
Diana Cole B.A. (Hons), Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector), P.D.C. In addition to the qualifications listed above, Diana holds City & Guild construction qualifications and an NPTC pesticide spraying licence (PA1/PA6). Diana runs her own landscape gardening business (Arbella Gardens). Active in many organisations including the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.
Yvonne SharpeRHS Cert.Hort, Dip.Hort, M.Hort, Cert.Ed., Dip.Mgt. Over 30 years experience in business, education, management and horticulture. Former department head at a UK government vocational college. Yvonne has traveled widely within and beyond Europe, and has worked in many areas of horticulture from garden centres to horticultural therapy. She has served on industry committees and been actively involved with amateur garden clubs for decades.

Check out our eBooks

Growing & Knowing Flowering BulbsWith 187 pages the Growing and Knowing Flowering Bulbs ebook is a great foundation on growing bulbs and includes a colour glossary of flowering bulbs. This ebook is a great read for students, professional horticulturalists and gardeners.
Growing and Knowing NutsDiscover the many different varieties of nuts that you many not have ever heard of. Learn unique ways of using nuts and cooking with nuts.
Growing & Knowing GrassesGet to all about the botany of grasses, how to identify them, how to cultivate grasses, the different uses for grasses and also includes a detailed illustrated encyclopedia of grasses and grass-like plants.
Growing & Using Capsicums & ChilliesGet to know more about Capsicums and Chillies with brightly illustrated ebook- Growing and Using Capsicums and Chillies. With 71 pages of wonderful facts about capsicums and chillies, this ebook will have you growing, knowing and cooking your own delicious home grown capsicums.