Higher National Diploma Home Study

Gain advanced entry to the third year or final year of a degree with a fully-recognised Higher National Diploma or learn everything you need to start your own successful horticulture and garden design business.

Start Date

Can be started at any time


€4,504 (Easy-pay plan available)


Approximately 18 months

Work Placement

Graduates of this course are eligible for a one month work placement with a garden design company. All placements are made in the Dublin and Cork areas.

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Study Option
Home Study
Course Level
Level 5 on the RQF (comparable to level 6 on the NFQ)
Entry Requirements
18 years old or over
Note: If English is not your first language, we recommend you have at least level 5.5 IELTS or equivalent. Or, have completed your last two years of schooling through English.
30 practical assignments
The Garden Design Academy of Ireland has partnered with global educational experts Pearson Education to offer BTEC courses to our students. These courses are a recognised route to university, leading to the final year of a degree course or progression on to other professional qualifications.

Completing this course will lead to the third or final year of a degree, or enable you to start your own successful horticulture and garden design business. You will not only create, plan and manage your own horticulture project but also produce attractive garden designs, understand the key skills needed by contractors to deliver a quality service within budget, plan and manage a hard landscape project, evaluate different plant propagation methods, develop knowledge in site safety, business development and equipment sourcing, and analyse horticulture practices from the perspective of sustainability.

Designed around 30 practical assignments, you will incrementally develop the skills, advanced techniques and deep understanding of the industry that you need to succeed as a horticulture professional.

As a home study student you will have full access to our student area, the Online Learning Centre, which contains course material created by industry experts including: instructional videos, written content and assignments.

Our tutors provide all the support, knowledge and in-depth feedback you need to progress through your course and are always contactable through the Online Learning Centre.

This course can be completed in approximately 18-36 months*.

*Completion time is based on the approximate time it has taken past students to complete the course. Students have up to 48 months to complete the course.

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The list below provides an overview of the topics covered in this course.

    • Principles of Botany

    Examine the role of plants and their relationship with human society. Develop an understanding of the organisms that make up the plant kingdom (and its subgroupings). Build skills in research and experimentation to examine how plants obtain energy, grow and adapt to their environments. You will learn about:

    • Plant anatomy and physiology
    • Life cycle of plants
    • Importance of plants in a range of different industries
    • Interrelationships between plants and their environment
    • Evolutionary and ecological relationships between plants
    • Plant Identification and Classification

    Examine the common identification systems used in horticulture to recognise and record the characteristics of different plant groups. Develop essential skills needed to identify plant species and to classify plants in terms of type, family and form. Build confidence in the use of common language used for classification and in the use of identification keys. Be introduced to the importance of classification standards and legislation in terms of plant breeding and classification around the world. You will learn about:

    • Characteristics of main plant groups
    • A wide variety of plant types and species and the skills needed to identify them
    • Taxonomy and the use of identification keys to identify and record plant species
    • Latin Nomenclature - the common language used to identify and classify plants
    • Basics of plant legislation in terms of international plant breeding and classification
    • Business and the Business Environment

    Develop knowledge and understanding of land-based business and business practices. Examine different types of organisations operating in the land-based sector and explore interrelationships between various stakeholders. Build analytical skills to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different organisations and to explore the impact of macro factors (e.g. economy, politics, environment etc) on an organisation's objectives. You will learn about:

    • Differences between for profit, non-profit and non-governmental organisations in terms of land-based business
    • Size and scope of different organisations in terms of objectives, market share, growth and sustainability
    • Marketing, financing, human resource management, interrelationships and operations within and between organisations
    • Impact of macro environments (e.g. digital technology, politics, economics, international markets) on land-based business operations
    • Decision making in business using SWOT and PESTLE analysis
    • Plant and Soil Science

    Develop essential knowledge of the scientific principles needed to optimise plant production in horticulture. Assess the type and characteristics of different soils and consider what is needed for optimal structure and nutrition in plant development. Examine the processes necessary to encourage the healthy growth and reproduction of different plants. Examine issues such as water management, pesticides and disease treatment. You will learn about:

    • Soil types and conditions
    • Adjustments to improve the physical and chemical composition of soils
    • Plant form and function (e.g. water regulation, photosynthesis, nutrient transport and storage)
    • Water, temperature, nutrients and light for optimising plant growth
    • Pesticide and disease control
    • Marketing Essentials

    Examine the role of marketing in land-based organisations. Consider how different marketing strategies are used in real world examples. Explore the way marketing can impact on the horticulture industry and your own professional practice. Understand the skills used in marketing to develop a loyal customer base, which can be applied to your own career development in land-based business. You will learn about:

    • The importance of marketing and its relationship with other areas in business
    • Types of marketing strategies
    • Purpose of the 7P’s marketing mix in meeting business objectives
    • Creating and evaluating a marketing plan
    • Plant and Crop Nutrition

    Build a foundational understanding of the nutritional needs of plants and examine how knowledge can be applied to maximise the volume and quality of crops. Understand how plants absorb nutrients and the factors that can limit uptake. Develop an awareness of the variety of fertiliser regimens and how they apply in different crop situations. You will learn about:

    • Importance of plant nutrition and its impact on plant growth and the yield and quality of crops
    • Factors affecting the uptake of nutrients and how plants absorb them
    • Comparing varieties of fertiliser, in terms of their effectiveness and costs
    • Methods for determining nutrient requirements and availability
    • Applying knowledge of plant nutrition and fertiliser regimes to a range of crops
    • Surveying and Measuring

    Develop fundamental skills in surveying and measuring that are necessary for a range of land based businesses. Evaluate the tools and technologies used for a variety of surveying and measuring tasks. Understand the importance of accurate measurement and drawing. Apply knowledge to create a set of design plans for a given site.

    You will learn about:

    • The role of surveying including different types of surveys
    • Measuring material properties
    • Measuring environmental properties such as light and shade, heat and humidity
    • Surveying and measuring equipment
    • Undertaking a site survey
    • Recording measurements and creating accurate plans
    • Managing a Successful Project

    Apply the skills and knowledge you have developed to plan and manage a horticulture business project. Undertake primary and secondary research on a set theme and topic about the land-based business sector. Plan and manage the project from start to finish. Produce and present project outcomes. Review project outcomes to examine the skills and processes you have learned throughout the course. You will learn about:

    • Ideas generation and project development based on a set theme and topic
    • Independent research, decision making and problem solving for a project analysing the land-based business environment
    • Fundamentals of project management
    • SMART goals
    • Data collection based on experiments, interviews, legal/historical documents or market research
    • Analysis of research findings
    • Development and presentation of project outcomes
    • Critical reflection skills
    • Professional Garden Design

    Understand the key areas of site analysis, client brief analysis, ideas generation, scale drawing, material selection and planning and construction techniques in order to create aesthetically pleasing designs. Develop creativity by examining and applying key design principles to garden design compositions. Build knowledge about the relationship between creative practice, costings and design implementation. You will learn about:

    • Site analysis and Interpreting a client brief
    • Hard landscape and planting plans
    • Key design principles (e.g. rhythm, scale, balance, variety etc) and how to apply them
    • Use of scale, symbols, graphics and detail
    • Drawing and CAD software
    • Planning and Implementation of Hard Landscapes

    Integrate current garden design, horticulture and site construction skills to manage and plan a hard landscape project. Evaluate a range of hard landscape features used in designed gardens. Consider the relationship between function and aesthetics of a range of garden elements. Understand how hard landscape features complement soft landscape elements. Develop advanced design and implementation skills. Examine health and safety features that can impact on the design and implementation of a project. You will learn about:

    • Hard landscape materials and their use
    • Managing the surfaces, boundaries and landscaping features used in hard landscaping projects
    • Analytical skills for project development and management
    • Planning, implementation and delivery of a hard landscaping construction project
    • Resource management
    • Essentials of site construction including health and safety and construction regulations
    • Plant Selection and Propagation

    Develop essential skills in plant production with an emphasis on quality, yield, appearance and conservation. Understand the importance of plant propagation for commercial purposes and within the natural environment. Examine the strengths and weaknesses of different plant propagation methods and consider how techniques can be applied. Practice different techniques to explore the initial growing of plant species. You will learn about:

    • Variety of plant propagation methods and techniques
    • Vegetative propagation
    • Propagation by seed
    • Evaluating and applying criteria for selecting plant material for propagation purposes
    • Applying techniques and developing skills to successfully propagate plant species
    • Landscape and Garden Maintenance

    Examine the growth of landscape and garden maintenance as a key part of the land-based business environment. Develop knowledge in horticulture practice, site safety and business development. Cultivate advanced skills in planning and maintenance, sourcing equipment, monitoring garden quality and adapting activities to the needs of different plant groups, Understand the key skills needed by contractors to deliver a quality service within budgets in order to maintain a successful and competitive business. You will learn about:

    • Planning the maintenance of public and private gardens based on site, customer needs and best practices
    • Evaluating and acquiring necessary equipment for maintenance projects
    • Assessment of feedback, data and key performance indicators to determine the quality of landscape and garden maintenance
    • Strengths and weaknesses of different pricing models in the landscape maintenance business
    • Estimating costs and pricing to develop a competitive practice
    • Professional Garden Design Practice

    Develop skills needed to manage a successful garden design practice. Explore the importance of consumer rights and site safety by learning about key legislation and industry standards. Understand the importance of professional development in terms of both design, implementation, project management and financial planning. Practice estimating the costs of garden design proposals using appropriate software and industry specific pricing manuals. You will learn about:

    • Legal, ethical and regulatory compliance essential to the garden design business
    • Construction design and management regulations
    • Standard codes of practice
    • Environmental responsibility and conservation
    • Business structures and how to monitor profitability
    • Evaluating costs and producing estimates and quotations
    • Networking and promotion strategies including engagement with professional associations
    • Sustainable Practices

    Understand the concept of sustainability and the practices that support it. Build knowledge of the systems used to reduce energy consumption and minimise waste. Analyse horticulture and business practices from the perspective of sustainability. You will learn about:

    • Identifying opportunities for minimising damage to land, water and air
    • Developing sustainable practices across the supply chain
    • Practices for minimising resource requirements
    • Energy efficient production methods and technologies
    • Waste reduction and management
    • Recycling opportunities
    • Responsible disposal of non-recyclable waste
    • Sustainability legislation
    • Sustainability in business promotion
    • Research Project

    Complete an independent research project based on your own area of interest in horticulture and garden design. Based on a set-theme, complete your own research project from start to finish and investigate a specialised area of practice. Apply appropriate research methods and established practices. Analyse findings and present outcomes to appropriate stakeholders. You will learn about:

    • Research proposals and ideas generation
    • Literature reviews
    • Research methods
    • Sample selection and data collection
    • Ethics
    • Analysing data and drawing conclusions
    • Presenting outcomes in reports and spoken presentations
    • Critical thinking and reflection


All our tutors are garden design professionals working in the industry.

The Garden Design Academy of Ireland

Our philosophy at the Garden Design Academy of Ireland is to make high-quality education accessible to all by empowering people to do what they love. Through the power of online and blended learning, our students are able to harness their creativity and practically apply it to succeed in their chosen careers.

Pursue your ambition - because the future is today!

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Choosing the right course

We offer a range of garden design courses to suit your goals.

Why not contact our experienced staff for advice, or browse to our other courses.

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