Certificate In Horticulture (Permaculture)

Study this Certificate in Horticulture (Permaculture) from anywhere in the world, and at your own pace. Learn from highly qualified and experienced Horticulturists, and gain a sold foundation in this interesting field.

Course CodeVHT002
Fee CodeCT
Duration (approx)700 hours

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  • This course incorporates the PDC; but much more than any standard permaculture certificate
  • Learning more and knowing more will allow you to do more for clients, and achieve more in any business or employment situation

This course was developed for people working or wishing to work in Horticulture with a particular emphasis on the design, development and management of productive natural garden systems. Half the course involves Permaculture systems, Advanced Permaculture, and one relevant elective eg: Organic plant culture. The other half provides a broad, general foundation in Horticultural practices. Upon completion of the course you will be awarded a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC).

“The principles of permaculture and the fundamentals of horticulture are covered in this extensive course. It creates opportunities to work as a consultant or to set up sustainable productive gardens for others.” - Adriana Fraser Cert.Hort., Cert.Child Care, Adv.Cert.App.Mgt., Cert 1V Assessment and Training, Adv.Dip.Hort., ACS Tutor.


The Certificate in Horticulture (Permaculture) involves two areas of work:
  • Core Studies - half of the course, involving at least 350 hours.
  • Stream Studies - stream studies in permaculture and organic growing, involving at least 300 hours of study.

Core Studies


The core units develop fundamental general skills in horticultural practices and plant knowledge. The core units cover the following topics:

  1. Introduction to Plants
  2. Parts of the Plant
  3. Plant Culture - Planting
  4. Plant Culture – Pruning
  5. Plant Culture – Irrigation and Machinery
  6. Soils and Media
  7. Soils and Nutrition
  8. Seeds and Cuttings
  9. Other Techniques
  10. ID and Use of Plants – Landscape Application
  11. ID and Use of Plants – Problems
  12. ID and Use of Plants – Indoor/tropical plants
  13. Pests
  14. Diseases
  15. Weeds

Stream Studies

These involve 300 hours of study, and are made up of the following modules:

Plus one (1) of the following electives-
Fruit Production (Warm Climate) OR Fruit Production (Temperate Climate)
Nut Production
Organic plant culture
Animals in Permaculture
Plants in Permaculture

OR some other approved module related to Permaculture.


Permaculture Systems

  • Explain the concepts of natural systems of relevance to Permaculture.

  • Determine appropriate cultural techniques to use in a Permaculture system.

  • Explain the incorporation of different animals in a Permaculture system.

  • Determine appropriate plants for inclusion in a Permaculture system.

  • Select appropriate technologies for use in Permaculture systems.

  • Draw concept Permaculture plans to scale.

Advanced Permaculture


  • Explain the relationship between a Permaculture system and natural patterns occurring in a local areA
  • Develop strategies for the management of water in a Permaculture design.
  • Determine earthworks for the development of a Permaculture system.
  • Design a Permaculture system for the humid tropics.
  • Design a Permaculture system for a dry climate.
  • Design a Permaculture system for a temperate to cold climate.
  • Determine planning strategies for the development of a Permaculture system.
  • Prepare cost estimates for a Permaculture development plan.
  • Explain alternative sustainable systems practiced in various places around the world.
  • Develop a good understanding of the scientific system of naming plants.
  • Discuss some of the aspects which play a part in permaculture.
  • Describe how permaculture is different to other forms of horticulture and agriculture
  • Visit an outdoor environment area determine what relationships the living and non-living things might have with each other.
  • Explain contour maps and how this information can be used to estimate potential effects on plant growth.
  • Explain weather patterns in your local area. Determine why this knowledge may be important to the permaculture practitionist.
  • Explain water within an ecosystem or permaculture garden and its application.
  • Describe the differences between the three main types of climate zones (ie: Tropical, Temperate and Desert); and briefly give your views on what major differences would need to be taken in establishing a permaculture system in each climate zone, compared with the other two.
  • Explain the importance of trees in a Permaculture system.
  • Describe how you would build a no dig garden approximately 10 X 3 metres in size.
  • Step by step work through a process of planning changes to a garden to make it into more of a permaculture system.
  • Collect and list preplanning information relevant to developing home into a permaculture system
  • Write a report explaining the five permaculture zones.
  • Create a table listing 50 different pest, disease and weed problems in one column, and an appropriate natural control method for each one in an adjacent column.
  • Make a list of companion plants. In one column, list the herb or companion plant.
  • Draw a plan for a fruit or vegetable garden which incorporates companion planting.
  • Explain briefly each of the companion planting interrelationships you have included in your plan.
  • Design a small and simple water garden for use in a permaculture system.
  • Design and build an herb spiral.
  • Design a vegetable and herb garden based on permaculture principles which would produce enough food to feed you and your family for the entire year.
  • List as many different central features as you can think of which could be used in a Mandalla garden
  • Outline how to plan and prepare garden zones in relation to animals. Provide step-by-step instructions and accompanying photographs or drawings.
  • Contact your state department of Agriculture and obtain leaflets relating to poultry which you are particularly interested in keeping.
  • Contact your state department of Agriculture and obtain leaflets (and any other publications) relating to bee keeping.
  • In no less than 500 words explain the importance of bees to horticulture and the permaculture garden.
  • Develop a 5 year plan for developing a one hectare permaculture farm utilising plants, animals and fish (aquaculture). Use drawings and diagrams where needed to assist in this report.

  • Select three different aquatic animals which would be appropriate to grow in a permaculture system. For each one in turn, explain how you would incorporate it into a permaculture system.

  • Go to nurseries and agricultural supply companies and inquire about environmentally safe pesticides. Write a report on these products.

  • Observe the construction process of a building or structure that involves some type of earthworks (eg, roads, dams, etc).

  • Take a photograph of your home or residence. Discuss your residence in relation to designing with consideration to the environment (eg. does it efficiently utilize sun and shade, is it energy efficient).

  • Describe the importance of house design in relation to location, eg. tropical region of Queensland or west coast of Tasmania.

  • Contact the local council or health department and inquire about allowable use of waste material in your area. Consider asking about grey water, septic tanks, use of effluent and animal wastes, etc. Write a report to 250 words on the task.

  • Contact and obtain information on composting toilets from a manufacturer. Compile this information and use it as a personal reference.

  • Contact a supplier of windmills and find out all that you can about the use of these devices for supplying water (ie. pumping from a river, lake, dam, ground water etc). Discover the alternatives available, the costs involved, the applications, operation etc.

  • Contact the National Parks and Wildlife department and obtain as much information as possible on wildlife corridors, conservation, etc. Contact your local council department and inquire about their wildlife corridors, etc. Are they similar or drastically different? Can you think of a reason why there may be a difference?

  • For a month period, write down all tasks performed by yourself and anyone who enters your permaculture garden. Submit this work schedule plus a brief report on how it may be possible to improve the time efficiency in the garden.

  • Write a report on where you think ‘alternative’ permaculture is heading in terms of main-stream acceptance.

650 - 700 hours

Graduates may find employment in either general horticulture fields, offering a Permaculture perspective to the industry. Or areas servicing Permaculture or natural gardening systems Eg Natural garden design, plant nurseries, teaching, and consulting to inspire the use of Permaculture and natural gardening systems.

You need to sit 2 exams for the core, and one for each of the stream modules (=5 in total). Exam fees are extra to the course fees.


A BETTER WAY TO GROW (An article by our staff)

For decades farmers have relied upon chemicals to control pests and diseases in order to produce saleable crops. In the ornamental, vegetable and fruit gardens reliance on chemical controls has also been the mainstay for many gardeners.  Unfortunately it is only recently that we have become aware that many of these chemicals are dangerous to humans, let alone the environment. Natural gardening has however increased in popularity in recent years due to the conscious awareness of safety in the garden, the protection of the environment, plus the desire to produce uncontaminated crops that are healthy to eat.

The renewed interest in natural gardening means that many people are seeking information that will direct them towards sustainable gardening techniques. Natural gardening should have an environmentally sound approach that helps people work in and enjoy their gardens but also protects the birds, insects, animals, plants, soils and water that are part of the natural environment. This book will lead you through these practices and guide you to naturally maintain your garden and develop it into a slice of Eden!


Natural gardening works with nature, rather than against it. It recognises the fact that nature has many complex processes which interact to control pests, diseases, and weeds, and to regulate the growth of plants.

Chemicals, such as pesticides and artificial fertilisers can reduce both the overall health of the environment and the quality of garden produce. Undesirable long-term effects such as soil degradation and imbalances in pest-predator populations also tend to occur. As public concern grows, these issues are becoming increasingly important. Natural gardening techniques aim to maintain the quality and integrity of the environment, as well as the produce we grow in our gardens and farms.

There are a variety of ways of growing plants that work with nature rather than against it. Some are techniques that have been used for centuries. Some of the most effective and widely used methods are outlined here.


Organic plant growing is the production of plants without the addition of artificial inputs such as chemicals that have been artificially manufactured or processed. This includes herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers.

Organic growing has increased in popularity over the past ten years due to the increasing awareness of safety in the garden and on the farm and the desire to produce food that is free from chemical inputs.  For decades, farmers and growers have relied upon chemicals to control pests and diseases in order to produce crops for sale. Unfortunately it is only recently that we have become aware that many of those chemicals can sometimes cause health problems to humans, as well as long-term damage to the environment such as soil degradation, imbalances in pest-predator populations can also sometimes occur. As public concern grows, these issues are becoming increasingly important. However the organic grower or gardener should understand that not all organic practices always guarantee a healthy environment, over-cultivation for example can also lead to soil damage. Organic growing practices should aim to ensure quality of both the environment in which we live and of the produce we grow in our gardens and on our farms.

A growing interest in more environmentally sustainable gardening methods offers the chance to provide the general public the quickest, safest and most enjoyable organic garden practices. This course will lead you through these practices and guide you to develop and maintain your plot, large or small.

Organic growing of plants works with nature, rather than against it. It recognises the fact that nature is complex and accordingly endeavours to understand interactions between plants, animals and insects. It therefore encourages the gardener for example to learn about the life-cycle of pests and to use this knowledge to control them. It also recognises that the use of chemicals has to be replaced with labour and management. Organic gardeners/growers have to manage pests rather than eliminate them. They need to be vigilant and have the ability to recognise problems and act quickly to minimise the spread of both pests and disease. They may also need to accept some insect damage to the plants they grow as inevitable. How to manage pest and disease problems in an organic system is covered in detail later in the course.

Organic gardening and farming have been given a variety of names over the years - biological farming, sustainable agriculture, alternative agriculture, to name a few. Definitions of what is and isn't 'organic' are also extremely varied. Some of the most important features of organic production, as recognised by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), include:

  • Promoting existing biological cycles, from micro-organisms in the soil to the plants and animals living on the soil.

  • Maintaining the environmental resources locally, using them carefully and efficiently and re-using materials as much as possible.

  • Not relying heavily on external resources on a continuous basis.

  • Minimising any pollution both on-site and leaving the site.

  • Maintaining the genetic diversity of the area.

Practices which are typical for organic systems are composting, intercropping, crop rotation and mechanical or heat-based weed control. Pests and diseases are tackled with naturally-produced sprays and biological controls (e.g. predatory mites).

One of the foundations of organic gardening and farming, linking many other principles together, is composting. By combining different materials, balancing carbon and nitrogen levels, coarse and fine ingredients, bacteria and worms act to break down the waste products. Composting produces a valuable fertiliser that can be returned to improve the soil. Natural biological cycles are promoted, 'wastes' are re-used and the need for external supplies of fertiliser are reduced or cut altogether.

Organic gardeners should avoid the use of inorganic (soluble) fertilisers, super-phosphate for example should not be used because it contains sulphuric acid, rock phosphate however is the acceptable alternative. Synthetic chemical herbicides, growth hormones and pesticides should also be avoided. 

One of the foundations of organic gardening and farming, linking many other principles together, is composting. By skilfully combining different materials, balancing carbon and nitrogen levels, coarse and fine ingredients, bacteria and worms act to break down the waste products. Composting produces a valuable fertiliser that can be returned to the soil. Natural biological cycles are promoted, 'wastes' are re-used and the need for external supplies of fertiliser are reduced or cut altogether.

Influential People in the Organic Movement

Lady Eve Balfour – farmer and organic farming pioneer. Born in the U.K. in 1899 she was one of the first women to study agriculture and at the age of 21 started farming in Suffolk England. For the next 70 years she worked as an educator, researcher (The Haughley Experiment – scientific experiment into organics) promoted organic farming, and published books, such as ‘The Living Soil’ in 1942. She co-founded the Soil Association in 1946 – an organisation that promoted sustainable agriculture and organic methods. This organisation still flourishes today and is one of the principle bodies dealing with inspections of, and awarding certificates to, organic farms and small-holdings in the UK.

Sir Albert Howard – Born in the U.K. in 1873 studied botany and became a principle figure in the organic movement. He is often referred to as the ‘father of modern organic agriculture’. He worked in Asia and India as an agriculture consultant and also developed and documented organic techniques that he also promoted throughout Europe. He wrote An Agricultural Testament – a classic organic farming text and published in 1940.

Jerome Irving Rodale born in 1878 in the USA was one of the first advocates of organic and sustainable farming in that country. Initially an accountant who set up an electrical firm, Rodale was later so influenced by the work of Sir Albert Howard that he bought a farm to test Sir Albert’s ideas. From then on he actively promoted an ‘organic life-style’ and also popularised the term ‘Organic Farming’.

With Sir Albert as associate editor JI Rodale published (by Rodale Press, Inc.) the first edition of Organic Farming and Gardening in 1942 in order, to promote organic approaches to agriculture.
Rodale believed that the health of the soil and the plants living in it depended on introduction of organic matter in the form of decomposed animal and plant waste. He was also convinced that the use of chemical pesticides destroyed soil micro-organisms. These are the very organisms that are needed to breakdown plant and animal waste into useable nutrients, that promotes healthy plant growth. Rodale too is still flourishing today in the USA.


n its strictest sense, permaculture is a system of production based on perennial, or self perpetuating, plant and animal species, which is useful to people.  In a broader context, permaculture is a philosophy which encompasses the establishment of environments which are highly productive and stable, and which provide food, shelter, energy, etc., as well as supportive social and economic infrastructures. In comparison to modern farming techniques practised in Western civilisations, the key elements of permaculture are low energy and high diversity inputs. The design of the landscape, whether on a suburban block or a large farm, is based on these elements.
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.

A well designed permaculture garden will fulfil the following criteria:

  • Upon maturity it forms a balanced, self-sustaining ecosystem where the relationships between the different plants and animals do not compete strongly to the detriment of each other. The garden only undergoes subtle changes from year to year. 
  • It replenishes itself: The plants and animals in the garden feed each other, with only minimal (if any) input (e.g. natural fertilisers, feed) introduced from the outside.
  • Minimal work is required to maintain the garden once it is established: weeds, diseases and pests are kept to a minimum through bio-diversity (of plant insect and animal life). Companion planting and insect attraction are an integral part of this ecosystem for the beneficial effect they have on each other.
  • It is productive: food or other useful produce can be harvested from the garden continually.
  • Intensive land use: a lot is achieved from a small area. A common design format used is the ‘Mandala Garden’ based on a series of circles within each other, with very few pathways and easy, efficient watering. 
  • There is a diversity of plant varieties; this spreads cropping over the whole year   so that there is no time when a "lot" is being taken out of the system. This also means that the nutrients extracted (which differ according to each type of plant or animal) are "evened out". For example, iron-hungry plants are grown next to plants requiring little iron, in order that the soil does not become iron-deficient. . The diversity of species acts as a buffer.
  • It can adapt to different slopes, soil types and microclimates.
  • It develops through an evolutionary process changing rapidly at first, but this becomes more gradual over a long period   perhaps never becoming totally stable. The biggest challenge for the designer is to foresee these on-going long term changes.

Structure of a Permaculture System

Large trees dominate the system. The trees used will affect everything else   they create shade; reduce temperature fluctuations below (create insulation); reduce light intensities below; reduce water loss from the ground surface; act as a wind barrier, etc.
In any system, there should also be areas without large trees, but will include shrubs and lower growing plants.

The "edge" between a treed and non-treed area will have a different environment to the areas with and without trees. These "edges" provide conditions for growing things which won't grow fully in the open or in the treed area. The north edge of a treed area (in the southern hemisphere) is sunny but sheltered while the south edge is cold but still sheltered more than in the open. This is reversed in the northern hemisphere.  "Edges' are an example of microclimates: small areas within a larger site that have special conditions which favour certain species which will also grow well elsewhere.

Pioneer plants are used initially in a permaculture system to provide vegetation and aid the development of other plants which take much longer to establish. For example, many legumes grow fast and fix nitrogen (raise nitrogen levels in the soil) and thus increase nutrients available to nut trees growing beside them. Over time the nuts will become firmly established and the legumes will die out. Pioneer plants are frequently short lived (but not always).

The Development of Permaculture

Bill Mollison
The concept of ‘Permaculture’ was developed by Bill Mollison, and David Holmgren in Australia.
Born in 1928 Mollison is often called the ‘Father of Permaculture’. With David Holmgren Bill co-developed an integrated system of design. This encompasses agriculture, horticulture, ecology, strategies on land access, architecture, as well as financial and legal management of businesses and communities. Bill has been largely instrumental in promoting and popularising this concept to a point where it is now a significant global movement, largely with a life of its own.

Masanobu Fukuoka
Sustainable agriculture was a concept that was developed before it became associated with the term ‘permaculture’.
Masanobu Fukuoka, a microbiologist, left his career as a scientist to develop a sustainable organic farming system that replicates nature as closely as possible. The ground isn’t ploughed – seeds germinate on the soil surface, species are chosen to out-compete weeds, and cover crops are slashed and left on the soil surface to break down. Straw from the previous season’s crops is slashed and used as mulch: ducks are used to clean up unwanted pests and so on. Fukuoka’s system is also remarkably low in labour inputs.

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Maggi Brown

Maggi 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
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
Martin Powdrill

25 years working in Telecommunications, IT, Organisational Development, and Energy Conservation & Efficiency, prior to setting up his own Permaculture consulting business. Martin has a Bsc (Hons) Applied Science (Resources Option), MSc Computer Studies, P
Robert James

B.App. Sc. (Horticulture), Dip.Ag., M.Sc., Grad Dip.Mgt. Over 50 years experience that includes, Nursery Manager Brisbane City Councoil, Grounds Manager (University of Qld), Lecturer Qld Agricultural College, Propagator/Nurseryman at Aspley Nursery, Hort