Good Neighbors: A Natural Home on Montana's Flathead Lake

Nestled into the hillside overlooking Flathead Lake, this Montana home welcomes friends of all kinds.

| March/April 2008

When Mary Laud and James Boyes tucked their home into a sliver of cliff overlooking northwest Montana’s Flathead Lake, they did their best not to disturb any of their neighbors—including the area’s local birds, deer and black bears. They created a house that could settle into its surroundings thanks to local stone and a living roof that blends into the mountainous terrain near Glacier National Park.

The home’s east side is its most exposed and overlooks the lake. But even this side of the house sinks into the landscape: It’s composed of large boulders and low-E, wood-frame windows and is camouflaged by strategically placed perennials, shrubs and cascading pools. A manmade ravine and stone steps wind up along the hill on the home’s north end, leading to the flat roof that’s carpeted with sedums, sempervivums and other succulents.

The camouflage garden 

The green roof and extensive plantings are among numerous techniques the couple used to hide their home’s mechanical infrastructure. They concealed the power and water systems by building a dry-stack stone "ruin," and obscured power and light poles by strategically planting a dwarf peach tree and building a trellis. To reduce runoff, the couple diverts rainwater into "creek beds" planted with low-growing Japanese yew, lady ferns, mints, hardy heath varieties and variegated broad-leafed sedges.

Mary’s pesticide-free, water-saving garden is a hotbed of wildlife activity. She planted several hundred types of plants to attract butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and hummingbird moths. The water garden’s shallows provide bathing and drinking water for birds, squirrels and raccoons; snakes and foxes find a hunting grounds in the organic roses, irises and cypress. Even bears wander through from time to time.

Although Mary and James welcome wildlife, they draw the line with deer in their rooftop garden. They deter them by applying mountain-lion urine and a garlic-pepper spray around the perimeter. They also stretched a fishing-line "fence" at chest height; the deer can’t see it well enough to jump over it, so they usually move along. "We still end up with the odd deer on the roof," Mary says, "but our efforts mostly do the trick."

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