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Hi all, as the title suggests I am looking into the RHS theory qualifications that are studied on a distance learning basis. I'm a keen 26 year old gardener and do a bit of gardening for a few people locally between shifts at work, on an informal basis. I would really like to further my knowledge and get a qualification behind me as I can see myself getting into this line of work in the future although I appreciate that a qualification isn't strictly necessary.

I guess my main questions are;

1) Whether people who have done them found them to be worthwhile/enjoyable

2) Looking through the unit lists for both the level 2 and 3 courses it seems like there is a large overlap in the subjects covered. I was originally going to go for the level 2 course but my concern is that if I then decide to go for the level 3 at a later date I would be covering the same ground just in more detail. Obviously the money is an issue so do you think that I could go straight for the level 3 course if I am prepared to put the work in? I am used to studying and taking on lots of information.

Thanks for your help guys!

In case anyone else is thin king of doing a course I have just seen the level 2 and 3 course advertised as a package on the borders connect website. there seems to be a substantial saving to be made especially if you choose the online course option. does anybody have any experience with them? They used to be called learning curve.

Thanks again



It's hard to say whether you could go straight into level 3 without knowing what you know already. 

I did what was called the General Certificate many years ago, it was fairly in depth, very interesting  and taught me a lot of things I wouldn't  have thought of whilst digging the garden. 



Hi Reed......I have done the level two by distance learning and now doing level 3 at college. Level 2 does a lot of basic stuff that level 3 does not cover. I would feel my knowledge lacking in certain areas had I has missed it out. Sometimes its the basics that are important. Its also given me more confidence to do well in level 3.

I enjoyed the distance learning course but you do have to be very self motivated which thankfully I was. I found it exciting getting my work back from the I took the exams at my local horticulture college Reasheath. 

Many correspondence colleges do special offers for different courses.. The HCC Horticultural Corespondance College have special offers and allow you to pay in installments...this is the way I payed as I could not afford the lump sum at the beginning of the course. They send you the course material as the payments progress. 

I hope you enjoy your learning ...


I used the Learning Curve for my first course and was very unhappy with the tutor I was given... she was slow to mark stuff and uncommunicative. I was not the only one who found this problem as I spoke to others on another horticulture study forum who felt the same....

I put in a formal complaint.  so I would not recommend the Learning Curve.. and question why they felt they had to change their name. 


I have since found the HCC who I have had not trouble with .....


I'm doing the Level 2 course through the Warwickshire College at Pershore. It's certainly very cheap, but there seems very little support for the unit I am studying at the moment. Lots of downloads with pictures of plants that I could easily have have found myself, very light on written information, some is just reprints from magazines. Basically it's just "here are the objectives, get on with it". Only one assignment at the end of the whole unit. I'm only doing it for my own satisfaction, so not a problem for me; might be problematic for others.

Thank you Rosewithoutthorns I sent you a message for further info if possible? Thanks also for the info on Warwickshire college landgirl100 I will keep that in mind as I was seriously considering them!

Nutcutlet, my knowledge is fairly sound....on the things I know about!!

My concern was that the level 3 would cover all the level 2 plus some more, in which case I didnt want to spend time on the level 2 if i intend to do the level 3 anyway. i am still undecided on this!


Hi Reed

I've done both L2 and L3. 

L2, I downloaded the syllabus and worked through it by myself as the learning outcomes are very specific.  I used a couple of books - RHS Principles of Horticulture and also Peter Dawson's A Handbook for Horticultural Students.  Also RHS Propagating Plants is excellent.  Finally I used the past papers on the site with the examiners comments.  

The material covered at L2, in my opinion, isn't complex but there is a lot of it. 

I'm now studying L3 now with a distance learning college, BEST, and they are excellent.  I've found the depth that L3 goes into is a lot more than L2 and I've really appreciated the tutor support from an online college.

Whilst you do cover the same topics at L2 as you do at L3, L3 is far more complex.  I found it helped to have the building blocks from L2 - I would have it found it really difficult to go straight in at L3 but everyone is different I suspect.

Just to give you an idea of my experience to put this in context, I studied L2 as a real novice, I was volunteering a couple of days a week.  I did the exams over a couple of years and then took a year out from exams and completed a 1yr practical traineeship at a garden.  Since then I've done about 18 months as a gardener in an historic garden and I started studying L3 about 6 months ago.

I've found both qualifications really useful.

Hope this is useful.



Nut, which organisation did you do your general certificate with?


Hi artjak, I did it through what is now Isle College. Establishments at Milton (Cambridge), Wisbech and at that time Brook Street in Peterborough. I went to Brook Street for most sessions. They don't do anything like that there now unfortunately


Thank you nut.

Like nutcutlet I did the RHS General Certificate in 2000 - I really enjoyed the college environment and learned much from it (part time in the evenings). You will learn lots from distance learning, but if you could enrol in a college to do a part time course I think you would gain far more.  I was really sad when the course finished. 

As an update I have decided to study both the level 2 principles of horticulture and the level 3 combined qualification. Both through distance learning. Unfortunately due to a rolling shift pattern at work i cant commit to a college course which i appreciate would have been beneficial. Thank you everyone for your help. Wish me luck!

Who did you choose to go with in the end? Am tempted with Borders myself as their savings are significant. 



Good luck Reed enjoy your studies. 


I did my Principles of Horticulture Level 2 distance learning with Learning Curve, now Borders Connect. I have to agree with the earlier poster that the tutor was rubbish. The material is OK, but a lot is not relevant to the learning outcomes of the qualification and I found it very difficult to get in touch with my tutor for advice or getting assignments marked. I ended up just using textbooks and got support from the RHS exams study group on Facebook. You have to have a lot of self discipline and motivation as you don't get any from the tutor. 


Lindsay, their savings are significant for a reason. If you have the motivation, I would just get the learning outcomes from the RHS website and do it yourself from textbooks

This one is very good and specifically written to the learning outcomes. 

You can then enter yourself as an external candidate at your nearest exam centre. Which is what you would have to do anyway if you used a distance learning provider.

The Facebook group is also very good for asking questions and getting support.  

Although the RHS Theory Certificates may be done as a Distance Learning/Correspondence course you have to be aware that the cost does not normally include the exam fees or a centre to take them.  You have to find an Approved centre for this.   This method of learning maybe OK if you are working in the industry and are very motivated, but learning with a bunch of like-minded people has an awful lot more to offer!

Also for a full Diploma at Levels 2 and 3 you also need the  Practical Certificate which has to be taken at an Approved Centre.  Look on the RHS site for centres which offer the course as a full Diploma - you will get far more out of this than going it alone, as well as a full and worthwhile qualification! 

Found this quite interesting comment on Amazon re. the Peter Dawson book which quite often seems to be recommended: 


"If you're studying RHS level 2 horticulture (for which this book claims is designed) you would do well to steer clear of this. It is full of mistakes and inaccuracies, too vague about many subjects, missing much of what is on the syllabus, and for the price, nothing short of a complete rip-off. Your RHS 2 course tutors are no doubt very familiar with this book and will most likely be able to highlight errors to you as my tutors did.

Borrow it from the library if you absolutely must, but please don't use it as your only source of reference for study.

Save yourself the approx. £38 asking price and get/borrow several other worthwhile books instead such as:

Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
Principles of Horticulture (level 2) by Adams, Bamford and Early (6th edition or later if there are others)
RHS Propagating Plants
RHS Vegetable and Fruit Gardening
RHS Pests & Diseases or Collins Pests, Diseases and Disorders of Garden Plants

Other very useful reference books for level 2:
Water Efficient Gardening by John Marder
Illustrated Trees of Britain and Europe or Botanica's Pocket Trees and Shrubs
The Dr DG Hessayon 'Expert' series of books
RHS Plants for Places and RHS Pruning Plant by Plant or RHS Pruning and Training
RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants
RHS Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening"

Although people seem to be pleased with the Peter Dawson book, I'm going to have a look at some of the other books mentioned as they also look quite good