WM Design Studio Channels Ecological Design For This Countryside Home Outside Lancashire

The Landscape Library speaks with multi award-winning landscape design and build company, Michael John McGarr of WM Design Studio – about a project located in Ramsbottom, a market town just outside Manchester, England, this landscape ties rich architectural materials of the home into a performative landscape.

Secluded from neighboring properties, the intent of the landscape was simply “to create a luxury garden that tied in with the newly built property” which frames the surrounding views of rolling hills and valleys by splitting up the garden into geometrical living spaces.

While stunning materials compliment and contrast each other, a series of sustainable practices have been integrated and implemented into the design contributing overall aesthetic.

One outdoor room containing a louvered roof, is “controllable by remote / mobile device and catches rainwater to be harvested and used in the rest of the garden.”

In addition to the performative roof, a complex system of 7 pumps are recessed and “run beneath each of the large concrete steps to provide sound across this section of the garden providing a relaxing and soothing backdrop to evenings outside.”

Tell me a little bit about WM Design Studio? And how do you approach your design projects?”

Michael John McGarr:

Yeah. WM Design Studio is something that I founded with a colleague a few years ago and our main focus is sustainable landscape design, garden design, landscape architecture with essentially the common theme of ecological planting and contemporary materials, products, and techniques.

So what made you get into sustainability and ecological planting? Is that something you were introduced to at a young age? Or is it because of the discipline that took you in this direction?

Michael John McGarr:

Well my background initially was ecology, so I studied ecology and then came into garden design after that. Trained again in garden design, so it was more to do with my experience.

During that time when I was studying, there was a huge sort of surge and an uplift in awareness of the new perennial movement in Europe and that kind of inspired me, but you kind of pick you kind of take the baton somewhat from those guys and some of the things that were happening at the time and kind of put your own spin on it as well. So I was very interested in the work of Piet Oudoulf, and the kind of Dutch skill.

“I was keen to push (the perennial movement) a step further and kind of look at more naturalistic plantings and less ornamental plants.” - Michael John McGarr

Rather than trying to mimic some of the ecological planting’s going more with, you know, a further purist naturalistic approach, some of that has been compounded by the movement certainly over the last few years in in agriculture and horticulture towards re-wilding, which has become another part of the forward thinking within planting design as well.

It seems like this project has such an underlying system of components, now that I learned a little bit more about your practice, can you tell me about the materials and systems you are using to collect rainwater?

Michael John McGarr:

Yeah, so what we did as part of (rainwater harvesting), the structure itself and the majority of the site was just directed into a water boat which we were then able to use for plantings.

“During the early stages of the planting design as things were kind of established we were able to use some of that water (collected from the louvered roof) but then that overflowed as well into the planting beds themselves.” - Michael John McGarr

So there’s kind of a chain of water that supplies the site. Not necessarily every client is aware of sustainability elements and everybody wants to be more ethical and sustainable, but they have very sort of framed ideas about what a garden should look like. So that particular project, it was kind of a playoff between doing something that, you know, it’s quite neat in certain respects, and tidy, but still with some of those influences coming through into the plants like Scots, pine as our sort of specimen tree. 

There’s also a lot of English Yew planted with a lot of lavender as well, which is not necessarily native plant, but what kind of taking that English country garden as an influence and using some of those principles of a more naturalistic approach to layout the planting. 

So you’re still looking at that contemporary edge, but you’re always trying to develop that ideology really of planting so there’s always some kickback with certain styles. And that one in particular – it was an interesting one because it forces you to think outside of the box and question what’s achievable?

Would you say, are all of your clients coming to you with sustainable design in mind, or are you kind of educating them throughout the process? And if so, what kind of tools are you using or how are you communicating that the larger picture of this landscape has a greater scheme on the landscape?

Michael John McGarr:

Yeah. It’s always a battle really, because I believe that everybody wants to do better, and I think that in the same way, 15, 20 years ago, you couldn’t buy an affordable electric car, and I think the technology wasn’t there, and I feel like that’s slowly changed, hasn’t it? 

You know, and I think about the other industries, so people do want to do more, but they don’t necessarily know what they can do. So there’s this kind of, it’s the job of the designers to be constantly illustrating what’s possible where gardens landscapes. It’s very rare that you’ll get somebody comes to you and say, I want a sustainable landscape designer, you’d be worried if they could because

“a big part of being a designer is being able to present these new ideas and new ways of thinking to the client and so I think that there will be a time, what you know, all garden design will be sustainable and all planting will be ecology based planting will be much more functional than it is now.” - Michael John McGarr

So ornamental planting won’t exist. I believe that landscapes themselves will become somewhere that encourages wildlife and provides food. And the idea of something that looks good, looks good. just a bonus on top of that and that’s where the designer will ultimately come in. So I think that it is starting to change, you know, times are changing as you know, it’s good to be on the edge of a new era of planting really.

Yeah, it seems the levels and depths of landscaping is extending farther in performative design, you know, getting more out of the landscape and you even touched base on it with the edible foods and just so much more that improves the site. What was the space like before you got to the project?

Michael John McGarr:

It was quite poor. The site had a huge house as you can see it being developed on that side. So all the usual difficulties with a site like that, including compaction of earth. The site is a very, very beautiful sloped hillside. So a lot of moisture runs straight into the side.

“So we were looking at using plants in the landscape design to deal with the moisture at different levels.” - Michael John McGarr
What would you say was the most difficult part of this project and what was the most enjoyable part?

Michael John McGarr:

The most difficult part really, I was negotiating the separate levels with bespoke pieces of concrete. We also have to use seven different pumps within a single water feature and kind of the engineering, around providing an adequate lighting system and the correct amount of pressures for a water feature of that scale really was a challenge. 

So, I think one of the big things that we took, I said that particular projects was, as the designer, you need to have a good team around you because it really highlighted the benefit of what specialists do. In terms of, you know, what feature engineering, bought it on structural engineering, the electrical infrastructure and amalgamating all those together into something that works.

I think we had some really good collaborators as well. As part of that project that helps up to make it what it what it was, you know, it’s a bit like being in a sport where you kind of, you’re not singularly great in one area, but as a designer, it’s your job to pull together a team of experts who can who can implement a scheme like this.

About WM Design Studio and Michael John McGarr (Lead Landscape Designer / Outdoor Living Consultant)

Michael is a multi award winning garden designer who creates gardens with an emphasis on ecology and sustainability.

He is a trained ecologist and landscape designer who has worked in the industry for almost 20 years.

Michael is a member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture.

Michael leads WM Design Studio LTD. is a multi-award-winning creative and innovative garden design consultancy. Our background is in ecology and design, and we have a sound environmental and ethical path to designing outdoor living spaces, which is driven by a passion to create something unique, with the best materials with meticulous attention to detail.

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