About ACS Distance Education

Established in 1979, ACS Distance Education has educated thousands of full and part-time students, many of whom have gone onto successful employment, both in industry or in their own businesses. Others have used their courses to develop a hobby, or simply broaden their general education.

We currently have over 3000 students enrolled in over 50 countries around the world. A group of affiliated colleges are training a further 8,000 or more students using the courses we have developed and provide to them.

The school employs 45 staff across the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

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 was 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 1990's 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 lisenced 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 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 started regularly contributing to the national garden magazine -Garden Guide -and contributed off an on involvement with that magazine until 2003. In 1988 the school was contracted by Express Publications in Sydney to write a range of Gardening magazines. This arrangement also continued for many years.

Over a period of 35 years, John Mason and staff at the school have also been contracted to write over 40 books for both national and international publishers including Kangaroo Press, 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.

By 2010 affiliated colleges were delivering ACS courses under lisence from 5 different countries. Combined, over 10,000 people, across more than 150 different countries are enrolled in ACS courses every year

What is Different about ACS Distance Education 

We believe in the value of diversity and the importance of a unique education.

We offer a fully supported learning experience by distance learning. Watch our video, below, to find out about our approach and support to you in your studies with us.



John L. Mason Dip.Hort.Sc., Sup'n Cert., FIOH, FPLA, FAIH, MACHPER, MASA
Mr Mason has had over 41 years experience in the fields of Horticulture, Recreation, Education and Journalism. He has extensive experience both as a public servant, and as a small business owner. He has held positions ranging from Director of Parks and Recreation (City of Essendon) to magazine editor.   John is a well respected member of many professional associations, and author of over thirty five books and of over two thousand magazine articles. Even today, John continues to write books for various publishers including Simon and Schuster, and Landlinks Press (CSIRO Publishing). Among other bodies, he is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture (UK), Fellow of the Australian Institute of Horticulture, Member of the Garden Media Guild and of the British institute of Learning and Development.

Tutors & Academic Staff

Thady Barrett M.Hort (RHS)
Thady is a consultant to the horticulture industry in the UK, with particular interest in the ornamental plant sector. Previously a senior lecturer at Writtle College for 20 years which included being course tutor for RHS qualifications. Wide ranging practical horticultural experience but with specific interest in propagation techniques and plant production technologies. Member of the International Plant Propagators Society (IPPS) and awarded the Rose Bowl Award in 2009 in recognition of his contribution to the society.

Maggi BrownCert.Ed.(Environment)
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 (now Garden Organic). She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture across the UK for more them three decades.

Diana ColeB.A. (Hons), RHS Diploma in Horticulture, BTEC Higher Diploma in Garden Design, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector)
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). She also has skills gained through leading a group of volunteers renovating a local park on behalf of a local council and has been a volunteer leader with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. She continues to teach the Royal Horticultural Society qualifications (Levels 2 and 3) at her local college. She is a member of The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Ltd.

Gavin Cole B.Sc., Psych.Cert., Cert.Garden Design, MACA
Gavin has over 20 years of industry experience in Psychology, Landscaping, Publishing and Education. He was operations manager for a highly reputable British Landscape firm (The Chelsea Gardener) before starting up his own firm. He spent the best part of three years working in our Gold Coast office, partly as a writer for Your Backyard (gardening magazine), and partly as a tutor in both psychology and horticulture.

Peter Douglas Dip Animal Husbandry
Peter has over 45 years of experience in Agriculture and resources management. He is a former lecturer with the University of Queensland (Gatton), and manager of Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. He also established and managed the wildlife park for Dreamworld, one of Australia's largest theme parks. Peter has both wide ranging experience in farming and wildlife management, and continues to apply that knowledge both through his work with ACS, and helping his adult children who have pursued careers of their own in similar areas.

Marius Erasmus  B.Sc.Agric., B.Sc.(Wildlife), M.Sc.Agric.  
Subsequent to completing a BSc (agric) degree in animal science, he completed an honours degree in wildlife management, and a masters degree in production animal physiology. Following the Masters degree, he has worked for 9 years in the UK, and South Africa; in wildlife management, dairy, beef and poultry farming. 

Adriana Fraser Cert.Hort., Cert.Child Care., Adv.Cert.App.Mgt., Cert 1V Assessment and Training., Adv.Dip.Hort.
Adriana has over 25 years of experience in horticulture and organic growing, business, project management and writing. She has worked extensively in the nursery and garden design industry, as a TAFE teacher and in community education. She also operated a display herb garden at her home for students interested in herb identification and propagation. She also worked as a project manager for Community Jobs Programs - developing public parks and gardens. Adriana has written regularly for a range of publications (including Australia's national Grass Roots Magazine) since the early 1980's. She continues to be actively involved in writing, gardening and organic growing - in addition to her work for ACS as tutor, course counsellor and course writer.

Kate Gibson B.Soc.Sc, PostGrad Dip Org
Kate has over 6 years experience in marketing, and has worked as a project manager. Kate has traveled and worked in a variety of locations including London, N.Z and Australia.

Denise Hodges Adv.Dip.Bus., Dip Clothing Design, Adv.Dip.Naturopathy (part completed) formerly Promotions Manager ABC retail, Fitness Programmer/Instructor, Small Business Owner, Marketing Coordinator (Laserpoint).
After trying out a number of career directions Denise studied Marketing, and honed her skills by working in promotions for the ABC for 10 years. However, Naturopathy studies have allowed her to share and further indulge her real passion, which lies in health and fitness. Denise continues to enjoy learning and sharing her interests with others.

Bob James M.Env.Sc., Dip.Animal Husb, B.App.Sc., Grad.Dip.Mgt, PDC   
40 years experience in industry, having held a wide variety of senior positions in both government and private enterprise.
Bob's experience and knowledge is diverse, encompassing fields of Horticulture, Agriculture, Environmental Management, Business and professional writing.

Tracey Jones - Academic Officer & Tutor (U.K.)
B.Sc. (Hons) (Psychology), M.Soc.Sc (social work), DipSW (social work), PGCE (Education), PGD (Learning Disability Studies)
Tracey has over 25 years experience within the psychology and social work field, particularly working with people with learning disabilities. She is also qualified as a teacher and now teaches psychology and social work related subjects.
She is a book reviewer for the British Journal of Social Work and has also written a text book on Psychology and has had several short stories published.

Ian Kerr Dip.Photog, ABIPP
Freelance photographer based in Coventry (UK). Photographer of the year in 1982 for Commercial Sector within Midlands Region of UK from BIPP. Recently was awarded 3 merits in the architectural Sector within Midlands Region of UK from BIPP

Karen Lee BSc. Hons Biological Sciences, Postgraduate Diploma Nutrition and Dietetics
Karen graduated with a first class degree in Biological Sciences from Lancaster University and subsequently completed a Postgraduate diploma in Nutrition and Dietetics from Leeds Metropolitan University. Karen is a registered dietitian with over 10 years of experience of working in the NHS. Karen has undertaken a number of research projects and has lectured to undergraduate university students.

Simon Lennard M.Hort.Sc
Over 20 years experience in commercial horticulture and research. Simon has a Bachelors Degree in Horticultural Science and a Masters Degree in Horticultural Science from Massey University New Zealand

Honor McGregor B.Sc., Grad.Dip.Ed.
A background working with National Parks (NSW) and in web development with Macquarie University; Honor has also travelled widely, climbed major peaks in the Himalayas and New Zealand; and worked in the employmant industry assisting unemployed moving back to the workforce.

Dr. Lynette Morgan B. Hort. Tech., Ph.D. in Horticultural Science
Dr Morgan has a broad expertise in horticulture and crop production, and a keen appreciation of the global scene. She travels widely as a partner in Suntec Horticultural Consultants, and has clients in central America, the USA, Caribbean, South East Asia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.

Dr. Gareth Pearce BSc(Hons), BVSc, MA, MVetS, PhD, GradCertEd(HE), PGCertAqVetS, PGCertWLBio&Cons, DiplECPHM, MRCVS
Gareth has over 25 years of experience in teaching and research in agriculture, veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology and conservation in a variety of colleges and universities in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon at the Universities of Melbourne and Bristol, having previously graduated in Agricultural Science and gained a PhD in Livestock Behaviour and Production. He also has post-graduate qualifications in Education, Wildlife Conservation Medicine, Aquatic Veterinary Studies and Wildlife Biology & Conservation.

Jade Pollock B.Sc.Biol, Dip.Professional Education, Cert Food Hygiene
Former Business Coordinator, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Secondary School teacher (Biology); Administrator (Recruitment), Senior Supervisor (Youth Welfare).

Martin Powdrill, Bsc (Hons) Applied Science (Resources Option), MSc Computer Studies, Permaculture Design Certificate.
Martin’s goal as a catalyst for sustainable change brings together his strengths and experience in his environmental, project management, and business backgrounds. For 25 years, Martin has been involved in Telecommunications, IT, Organisational Development, and Energy Conservation & Efficiency, prior to setting up his own Permaculture consulting business. He wishes to make a real difference to people and the planet, by actively bringing new perspectives to current challenges and exciting opportunities. To realise this, he enables diverse groups of people to flourish and release their untapped potential, by re-igniting their passion and creativity. Additionally, Martin volunteers with many local environmental and community groups, and facilitates discussions on climate change, peak oil, and transition towns. Martin has an allotment, and is currently enrolled in the Scottish Mountain Bike Leader Award programme.

Dr Wendy Seabrook  B.Sc.(Life Science), M.Sc. Ecology, Ph.D., Cert Bus.Mgt, Cert Training & Assessment, PDC, Dip.Perm.
Over 30 years experience in horticulture, Permaculture, Organic Farming and Environmental Management; in England, Scotland, the Seychelles and Australia.

Yvonne Sharpe RHS Cert.Hort, Dip.Hort, M.Hort, Cert.Ed., Dip.Mgt. . MNSALG
Over 30 years of experience in horticulture, education and management, Yvonne has travelled 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.

Jane Thompson B.App.Sc (Natural Systems & Wildlife Management)
With 12 years experience working in the field of wildlife conservation and management, Jane has expertise in planning for wildlife, habitat mapping and fauna surveying.  Jane has also prepared many reports and co-authored papers on wildlife conservation for conferences and publication.


Leonie Mason - Administration Director

Kerri Smith - General Administration

Sandy Plaza - General Administration

New Short Courses Launched in 2016

ACS developed and launched a series of new style short courses in 2016. Each course is an intensive, self paced, 20 hour online learning experience. These are practical, interactive and can be studied on computers, lap tops, and even mobile phones if you wish

We continue to add to the ever growing list of courses available.

See studyacs.com

ACS Distance Education

Horticultural College offering Home Studies courses, Online Courses, Open University and College Courses, Francising or licensing to other Colleges, Books, Articles and more ...

Learn how to grow plants through experiential learning, from internationally renowned horticulture teachers.

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