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A beautifully designed garden - Piet Oudolf's garden at Pensthorpe in Norfolk

At the beginning of January I started a four week online course with My Garden School (see my previous post My Garden School). I chose to do Planting Design Part One with Hilary Thomas, a former head of garden design at Capel Manor. Well I’ve just finished my last assignment so I thought I’d let you know how I got on.

Each Saturday a video and course notes, along with details of that week’s assignment were available to view on the website in a section called My Classroom which you get access to once you have signed up to a course. You could log on any time during that week to view the video and read the notes and go back to them as many times as you wanted, even during the following weeks. The videos lasted about half an hour and consisted of a series of photos illustrating the themes whilst Hilary talked you through the subject.

Each week there was an assignment related to the themes of that week. For example, I had to create a planting plan inspired by Piet Oudolf and create a collage of purely evergreen plants and select a group of plants based on their special characteristics such as beautiful bark. Assignments were uploaded in the My Classroom section and then I would receive comments from Hilary on how I had done. It was also possible to chat and leave messages for fellow students.

So what was my verdict. Well I found the course interesting and informative.  The course is really aimed at someone who hasn’t really had an previous experience so I did find the course easy but there are courses available for those with more knowledge and experience. A plus is that it did highlight the mistakes I have made in my own garden. The negative is that because we don’t think we will stay in this house too much longer I probably won’t implement the necessary changes, so now I will have to look at my mistakes knowing where I’ve gone wrong. I’m not sure whether I preferred blissful ignorance! Anyway, I do feel I have a much better understanding of why structural planting is so important in a garden and  I will definitely refer back to Hilary’s notes with any future garden projects.

I thought the tutor support and comments were prompt, friendly and constructive. My previous experience of an online course with another horticulture college was completely let down by the lack of tutor involvement. So it was good to see one of the more important elements of a distance learning course working well here.

I know the word ‘assignment’ can sound quite scary but they weren’t complicated or onerous and really just required sitting down with some good gardening books and/or the internet and selecting plants that fitted the requested criteria. Possibly the most time consuming aspect was finding suitable photographs to create the collages.

I found you do need a certain degree of computer literacy, being able to create a digital collage. I just used the photo package on my computer and once Wellyman had shown me what to do I was fine. You do also need access to a scanner for elements of this particular course. Fortunately, Wellyman could use a scanner at work.

Now the crunch question – did I think the course was value for money?  The courses cost £120 for the 4 weeks. I personally would have liked another week or two for that price but if you have nowhere locally that offers gardening courses or you have limited time available then they may well be what you’re looking for. If you do have access to a local college or you want something more in depth or with some practical experience then it probably isn’t the best value. For instance, my local college is offering a 15 week garden design course for £67. Although this course is for 2 hours every week during the day so might not be convenient for a lot of people. There is also the added value of the calibre of tutors the college offers, such as Hilary Thomas and John Brookes.

Ultimately My Garden School is offering a level of convenience that most colleges can’t offer, as well as tutors that are respected in their field, that most of us wouldn’t ordinarily be able to get access to.

I would just like to thank Hilary and Elspeth for their time.

For more information go to www.my-garden-school.com