Photo courtesy Creative Water Concepts

The Canvas:A stark desert setting, heat, light, limitless possibilitiesThe Palette: Shiny black rock, flowers flashing sudden orange, jungle dreamsThe Masterpiece:The harsh, haunted life force of Mayan ruins meets the sleek comfort of contemporary design

To ring in the new millennium, a pair of art gallery owners in Paradise Valley, Ariz., hired Steve Oliver to create a backyard masterpiece. “The client said, ‘Come up with something that’s different,’” says Oliver, president of Creative Water Concepts in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Having built for them before, Oliver knew that these clients preferred contemporary style. “They like elegant, striking designs that you don’t see in everybody’s backyard,” he says.

So he fashioned a one-of-a-kind, contemporary Mayan look. A wall of dark rock with dense vegetation sets the tone, but the straight edges of the rock keep it from looking like Mother Nature’s handiwork. It appears as if the jungle has overtaken an ancient monument.

Two statues transform the pool area into a gallery. One piece, depicting a man, stands among the flora. An abstract sculpture also appears to glide on the water’s surface. Square steps seem to float on the water, as they take visitors from one side of the yard to the other.

Water flows down the rock wall at speeds varying from a trickle to as much as 300 gallons per minute. “It can seep through there like it’s leaking water,” Oliver says. “Then you can kick it up a little bit more [for] a spring effect.” It then spills over the vanishing edge toward a sunken seating area.

The tropical plantings add an intriguing contrast. Vibrant colors pop against the neutral dark materials. The fine-leafed textures counter the hardscape’s linear form and slick surfaces.

Oliver figured out the size, shape and function that he wanted from the plants. For instance, he might specify something lush to stand tall here or frame a feature there. He then relied on Scottsdale landscape designer Donna Winters to choose specific species.

The large flowering canna placed in the rocks adds a flash of orange.A small Mediterranean fan palm looks like an offspring of an existing specimen. Several new ficus trees work with existing oleander bushes to hide neighboring houses and frame nearby Mummy Mountain.

Photo courtesy Creative Water Concepts