Chances are that round about now you might have a little spare time on your hands, so why not use it creatively and constructively and finally get round to becoming the master gardener or garden designer you've always aspired to be? Whether you’re considering retraining, looking for inspiration for your pots and borders or simply want to give your houseplants some loving care, here is a round-up of some of the best online courses to try.
Best for absolute beginners
Ron Finley Teaches Gardening
Ron Finley the self-proclaimed Gangster Gardener has long been a rebel with a cause. His clash with LA City Council over the kerbside garden he’d planted in the south of the city led to a change in the city’s by-laws and set Ron on an edible gardening crusade. Now he’s joined the distinguished list of tutors for online school MasterClass with a ten-part gardening course. Although the emphasis is on growing your own food, Ron offers a great all-round introduction with advice on transforming nutrient-poor soil into fertile ground, propagation and turning whatever you have to hand, from a boot to a drawer, into a planter. Each module lasts between eight and 20 minutes, making the course ideal to fit around other commitments, and comes with a downloadable PDF workbook.
MasterClass is a subscription-based platform that costs £170 a year and gives you unlimited access to all of its courses, so you can also take cooking classes with Yotam Ottolenghi, acting lessons from Natalie Portman or get writing tips from Neil Gaiman. The minimum subscription is for a year but if you decide it’s not for you, MasterClass offers a full refund within the first 30 days of purchase.
Best for budding botanists
Getting Started With… Botany,
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
If you’ve ever wondered what exactly is going on inside a plant or want to know more about the amazing diversity of plants on the planet then maybe a course on basic botany is for you. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh offers a short online course that works both as an introduction to its certificate and diploma in botany and is also an engaging and comprehensive introduction to the subject in itself.
The course is self-guided with tutor support through nine units that cover topics such as plant diversity, seeds, plant processes, roots and stems, leaves, plant reproduction and botanical classification, with tips on plant identification and an introduction to the investigative skills a botanist requires. Alongside the online learning there are also some fun practical tasks to complete in your own time.
The cost is £80, which gives you access to all materials and support for six months so you can work through the units at your own pace. There is some crossover with the RHS Level 2 Certificate unit on plant classification, structure, and function, but this course is more practical and less theoretical.
Best for perfecting perennial borders
Planting the Piet Oudolf Way,
Learning with Experts
For more experienced gardeners who are looking to expand their knowledge, Learning with Experts has an excellent selection of specialist, garden-related courses from flower photography to natural beekeeping. One of the highlights is this opportunity to learn at the feet of New Perennial master Piet Oudolf. Co-hosted by Noel Kingsbury and filmed in Piet’s own garden, Hummelo, when it’s at its peak in September, Planting the Piet Oudolf Way is divided into four sections that explore plant structure, plant combinations, seasonality and planting by region – all with corresponding assignments to follow in your own time.
You can start the course whenever you want and take part in an online interactive classroom of no more than 20 other students with whom you can group chat and direct message in a collaborative learning environment. There are two price options: the Peer option costs £35 and comes with lifetime access to the videos, notes and online classroom, while the Expert option for £165 also includes four weeks of access to Noel, who will guide you through the course and provide personal feedback on your planting plans, and you’ll also receive a certificate of completion.
Best for having fun with floral displays
The Prettiest Posy
Now that we’re all spending much more time in our homes than we would ideally like, most of us are looking for ways to make our living space that little bit more joyful. Yorkshire-based writer and stylist Sophie Warren-Smith has put together a short floristry course that can give even the most uncrafty the confidence to add a floral flourish to their homes.
Her short course costs just £24 and includes four easy-to-follow floral projects – an on-trend mantle arrangement, a spring table arrangement, a flower crown and a spring wall-hanging, all of which make use of seasonal flowers from your garden, such as hellebores, tulips and daffodils, combined with whatever you can forage while out and about. The only other supplies you’ll need are florist’s wire and tape. And perhaps a smartphone so you can post your creations on Instagram.
Best for plant fanatics
Online Gardening Course with Jimi Blake,
Hunting Brook Gardens
Jimi Blake is one of Ireland’s best-known gardeners, who for the past 20 years has been rewriting the rules on how to combine plants at his Hunting Brook Gardens, south of Dublin. Jimi is also the infectiously enthusiastic tutor for three excellent online courses: Late Spring to Early Summer; High Summer; and Autumn.
Each course is divided into four modules in which Jimi looks in detail at some of his favourite plants, from delicate erythroniums to exotic eucomis, and offers insights into how he chooses plants and combines them so successfully in borders. There is also plenty of practical advice on topics such as propagation and taking root cuttings. The cost of each course is €120 (or €295 for all three), and this gives you six months’ access not only to the instructional videos – all filmed at Hunting Brook – but to Jimi’s detailed plant notes that distil a lifetime of experience. This month Jimi is also launching a series of monthly masterclasses that will focus on a specific plant. These go out live on the last Thursday of every month until November. The webinars cost €25 (or €15 to rent post event) each, or you can sign up to all ten for €100.
Best for growing your own
No Dig Gardening and Growing Success,
One of the positives to have come out of lockdown is that more of us have realised the benefits of growing our own food. But if you’re serious about self-sufficiency, or just want to improve on next year’s crops, then a little learning goes a long way, especially if your tutor is Charles Dowding.
Charles has long been one of the leading exponents of no dig gardening, which he says will not only save you time, but is also an easy way of enhancing soil drainage, moisture retention and root health. His online course No Dig Gardening is a thorough introduction to the subject aimed at beginners and experienced gardeners alike. The 19 lessons are divided into six modules that show you how to eradicate weeds, feed soil, make compost, and create cropping plans for small spaces.
The companion course, Growing Success, provides more in-depth advice on growing vegetables, with lessons on seeds and sowing, spacing, succession planting, and how and when to harvest. The courses cost £150 each (or £225 for both), which gives you a lifetime access to all course materials.
Best for getting started in design
Design Your Own Garden,
Inchbald School of Design
Whether you’re considering a career in garden design or just want to come up with a plan for your own personal sanctuary, a short garden design course is a great place to start. Design Your Own Garden from Inchbald School of Design is a flexible, 12-week online course that takes you step-by-step through the design process. You’ll explore concepts of colour, form and texture, learn about using hard landscaping, structures and water features, and by the end you’ll have a design for your own space with a planting plan specifically suited to your garden conditions.
Courses are held termly (the next one begins on 26 April) and you’ll need to commit to around four hours each week. Throughout the 12-week period, you’ll receive specialist guidance and advice from an assigned personal tutor, as well as unlimited access to course materials and discussion forums where you can exchange ideas with other students and your tutor.
The course isn’t cheap at £1,260, but Inchbald is an SGD-approved educator with hugely experienced teaching staff, and this is a course that will equip you with the both confidence and skills to study for a diploma or degree. It will also help you decide if garden design is the career for you before investing in a longer course.
Best for the houseplant nervous
The House Plant Revolution James Wong’s Guide to Indoor Gardening,
Can houseplants really help turn our homes into healthier, happier places? The eminently likeable ethnobotanist James Wong seems to think so; he is so enthusiastic he shares his flat with 500 of them. He’s also devised a course for the online creative school Create Academy that helps to dispel much of the mystery around keeping them happy, which as he points out is often less complicated than we imagine, especially once we understand the importance of light and how best to water them.
Divided into 20 different lessons, the course includes advice on caring for different groups of houseplants, such as succulents and cacti, ferns and orchids, how to mimic different habitats from Bornean rainforest canopies to Amazonian rivers, how to plant up a terrarium and a living wall, and where best to source your plants.
This is a new course that launches later this month (15 February) and will cost £127 for unlimited lifetime access.
Gardens Illustrated readers can save 20% on James Wong’s course here createacademy.com/james-wong
Best for career changers
RHS Level 2 Qualifications,
BEST in Horticulture
Perhaps recent events have made you think about a career change and the possibility of turning your hobby into a business. There are many routes into careers in both gardening and garden design but whatever career path you choose, to take your first step should be to firm up your plant knowledge by studying for the RHS Level 2 Certificates. You can find details of colleges that run the courses on the RHS website (rhs.org.uk) and there are now several providers that allow you study for the course online.
The Midlands-based horticultural school BEST in Horticulture offers both the RHS Level 2 Certificate in the Principles of Garden Planning, Establishment and Maintenance and the Certificate in the Principles of Plant Growth, Propagation and Development as online options. Both are divided into four modules and cost £264 (excluding exam fees) for all four, or £72 for an individual module. Enrolment gives you online access and tutor support for two years, or until the final examinations, and access to an online classroom for each unit with downloadable course notes, revision workbooks, past paper questions and online self-test quizzes.
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Daniel Griffiths is a veteran journalist who has worked on some of the biggest home and entertainment brands in the world. He is a serial house-renovator and home improvement expert, taking on everything from interior design and DIY to landscape gardening and garden design.
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