THE CANVAS: Rural scenery, an Italianesque villa, wide expanse

THE PALETTE: Huge moss-covered boulders and river-run rocks, mountainous vegetation, clear pools and vigorous springs

THE MASTERPIECE: Art imitates nature, crafted water movement, realism in the details

If you’re going to specialize in natural waterfeatures, it helps to be a hiker. One of the most distinctive details of this project, located on an 80-acre estate in Northern California, came from an observation the designer made four years ago.

Bill Goddard and his son were walking in the woods and came across a series of tiny springs that oozed from the crevices between a grouping of rocks. “I said, ‘We can do that,’” the owner of Goddard Construction Services recalls. Fifteen such springs punctuate this expansive waterfall, which splits into two creeks before feeding into a pre-existing, man-made lake.

Rocky heights

Over the years, Goddard has developed an affinity for natural rock waterfalls. The true artistry happens on site, not on paper.

“What we try to do is create something that tricks the observer so [his or her] eye tells them this waterfall has been here for a million years,” the designer says.

Here, an important detail lay in designing the illusion of a faraway mountain as a water source. Goddard built a large elevated pool at the top of the falls. Behind the basin, he set big, pinnacle-shaped rocks to create the sense that water flows in from the backside.

“Your eye tells you it’s just another stream up there feeding it,” he says.

Piece by piece

Besides the basic shape, the choice of rock was crucial. Goddard works with locally purchased “floaters” — partially buried specimens in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They come already covered with red, yellow or green mosses. “I go out and select every rock,” he says.

When placing the boulders, Goddard looks at the size, texture and individual characteristics of each to figure out where it fits in the entire rockscape. "Even when you have a design, each rock will tell you to do different things — how water will go over it and how it’s going to be viewed,” he says.

To suit the scale of the project, he wanted to create surging whitewater. Thus, the rocks had to be placed to generate the needed turbulence. “Whitewater is created by movement, when oxygen is mixed in, and you only get that by the placement of the rock,” Goddard says.

Smaller rocks were then selected to line the stream beds. In total, he used 550 tons of stone, with the largest weighing 121/2 tons.

Birth of water

For another layer of realism, he added those individual springs that bubble from inside some of the boulders. “We drill the rock and pump water through to simulate a natural spring,” Goddard explains.

He topped off the falls with plants that are found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including evergreen trees, conifers, blue redwoods and spruce.

As proud as he is of the project, Goddard likes to give credit where it’s due. “I don’t know if we invent anything,” he says. “We just look at nature.”