Tributary House


Challenging the notion of the traditional American subdivision, this 1.2-acre Eastern Idaho garden reflects a landscape of minimal impact and purposeful stewardship. Inspired by adjacent rolling grasslands, ecologically diverse wetlands, and distant vistas, the planting palette mimics the indigenous landscape, blurring boundaries between gardenesque and natural landscape.

Tributary boldly redefines design guidelines, addressing sustainability measures of water consumption, stormwater management and groundwater recharge, wetland preservation, dark sky protection, migration patterns, and visual continuity of the rural landscape. The design restores 90% of the landscape, bolsters streamflow, and exceeds the required planting guidelines by 200%.


Rare flora and rich diversity of migratory bird species distinguish the Teton River Basin as a private land conservation priority in the 26 million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Among the Basin’s most important and threatened ecological features is Woods Creek Fen – a 4,000-acre peat-forming complex fed by groundwater originating within the nearby Teton Range. In the early 2000s, a large-lot subdivision was approved on the edge of this ecological phenomenon, its trajectory temporarily halted in 2008 due to the economic crash. Under new ownership, the half-finished development was resurrected in 2017. Our clients – a multi-generational family – purchased a 1.2-acre lot at the end of a cul-de-sac.

Initial conversations with the family revealed widely differing perceptions of landscape design. The landscape architect – inspired by author Wallace Stegner’s focus on the scarcity of rainfall in “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian” – promoted awareness and education of relevant sustainability topics to ensure an understanding of aridity in the West. Allied with redefined conservation values, these principles helped form an unwavering commitment to responsible living.

While a neighborhood-scale framework of constructed wetlands had been initially implemented, individual lots remained perched over the existing landscape with little connection to adjacent natural systems. With a vision for a seamless transition between disturbed and preserved lands, the team proposed an atypical approach where macro-scale restoration strategies addressing landform, hydrology, soil, and ecology preceded design decisions, informing a symbiotic result between architecture and land. Emerging from its riparian setting, the home – two, agrarian-inspired wooden structures linked by a transparent glass foyer – invites the landscape to permeate interior spaces while outdoor interventions remain disciplined and contained.

Challenging Convention
Although the neighborhood plan acknowledged its proximity to sensitive lands, its guidelines proposed conventional suburban aesthetics incongruous with the rural setting, including a requirement for planting “bluegrass sod across the front yard, along the entire front property line, in the side, and rear yards to create continuity.” In response, the team opted to create a progressive, sustainable case study that advances resiliency and stewardship in a region facing shifting climate conditions:

  • Biodiversity: Establishes priority conservation bird habitat and soil stabilization with a drought-tolerant meadow covering 90% of the property.
  • Water: Requires irrigation only for establishment, resulting in bolstered streamflow and restored fish habitat; Reestablishes drainageways to direct and filter onsite runoff before joining the fen.
  • Scenic: Prioritizes dark sky, uninhibited wildlife movement and landscape continuity; Restores land adjoining communal spaces with native plantings; Exceeds planting guidelines by twice the requirement.

Protecting, restoring, and stewarding Western rural lands is critical to both the natural and economic future of this vast region. In communities where residents tend to prioritize individual expression over long-term conservation strategies, landscape architects can lead an educational framework that juxtaposes human impacts of development and the interconnected relationships and processes that link site-specific and regional natural resources.

Plant List

  • Quaking Aspen
  • Colorado Blue Spruce
  • Mugo Pine
  • Russian Sage
  • Blue Oat Grass
  • Kinnikinnick
  • Idaho Fescue
  • Bluebunch Wheatgrass
  • Indian Ricegrass
  • Sandburg Bluegrass
  • Prairie Junegrass
  • Intermediate Wheatgrass
  • Annual Ryegrass
  • Crested Wheatgrass
  • Creeping Red Fescue
  • Orchardgrass
  • Meadow Brome

Documents and Media

Planning Docs (if applicable):