THE CANVAS: Damaged ecosystem, mature cottonwood trees awaiting regeneration, ghosts of a sawmil

THE PALETTE: Local Kemmerer flagstone, steel accents, moss rock steps make the water shimmer

THE MASTERPIECE: The home becomes an island in the forest, habitat is restored, water in all its forms and textures

Design work takes on a new dimension when you’re asked to repair Mother Nature. That was the mission for landscape architect Jim Verdone.

Besides creating a waterscape deserving of its forest setting, he needed to fix the damage that had been done to the site’s ecosystem.

“The property sits adjacent to the Snake River, but the land had been cut off from the water by a levee system,” says the principal of Verdone Landscape Architects Inc. “When that levee system was installed, the ecosystem started changing. Periodic flooding from the river stopped occurring, which deprived the wetlands … and halted regeneration of a cottonwood forest.”

His team put the habitat back on track by creating two ponds that cover about an acre, plus three waterfalls. The aquascape transformed the rustic yet contemporary home into an island in the forest.

Of a certain age

Three distinctive waterfeatures accent the pond nearest the home.

“We wanted to treat the water in a number of different ways, so as you moved around the house, you had a diversity of experiences,” the designer says.

The water starts at a source pool near a guest house. It bubbles up from 3 feet underground, like an artesian spring, and flows through pebbles that line the floor to resemble a river bottom.

The water then has two ways to go: over a waterfall or into a narrow channel leading to another flagstone falls in the back courtyard area.

Both waterfeatures were inspired by the history of the site, which had been a sawmill in the 1950s.

The first set of falls courses over zigzagging, moss-rock steps. The concept was to create as many facets as possible. “The quality of light on the site stood out to us, filtering through these mature cottonwood trees,” Verdone says. “By getting a number of angles, the light would play on it differently.”

The second waterfeature uses Cor-Ten steel. The channel, or sluiceway, is made of the brown material, which also accents the source pool. The feature is another tip of the hat to the past. “A lot of sawmills used to be powered by water, and it was common to see a sluiceway that diverted water off a river,” Verdone says.

The channel runs parallel to a wall faced with timbers that were reclaimed from a railroad trestle. It then turns a corner and heads to the final waterfall on the back terrace.

“At the point where the water, terrace and pond all met, we didn’t want to change material,” Verdone says. “We wanted to just have the terrace erode away.”

Kemmerer stone pieces were hand-chosen and placed to take on a sculptural quality. While different from the other waterfalls, they share the same contemporary yet rustic tone of the home, which was made of reclaimed timbers from old barns.

The flow

To restore the wetlands, Verdone and Jackson-based builder Big D Signature excavated the remnant channels, lined them and backfilled with a soil healthy for wetland plants. Water elevations were placed so that specific areas would be flooded from time to time, to help regenerate the cottonwood forest.

Most of the pond near the home is lined. However, unlined portions allow water to soak into the ground, to be pumped back into the source pool.

The habitat was returned to its original feel. Teton Landscape Specialties, also of Jackson, planted the site with ribbon grass, thimbleberry, day lilies, Karl Foerster grass, native sedges and rushes, and other appropriate varieties.

All of these factors transformed the area. “When we first walked onto the site, it looked dismal in terms of what we could do,” Verdone says. “But what was created was a much more productive wetland area.”