Because the water cascading over multiple spillway weirs masks street noise. Because clever foliage positioning creates big-time privacy in a small-scale setting. Because the installers painstakingly created a manmade shoreline to line the stream bed. Because many of the rocks are artificially etched and eroded, giving the appearance of a naturally occurring stream edge. Because the builders wrestled to install dark basalt boulders, the largest of which weighed 4,000 pounds. Because the flat-top boulders provide a whimsical and practical walkway across the stream. Because layers of plants give dimension and texture to the landscape. Because the stream glows magically at night, thanks to fiberoptic lighting.

With a public lake right behind their house, these homeowners craved a more intimate setting just for themselves. They called on Jeff Kearns of Wildwood Aquatech Pools in Fresno, Calif., to create a tropical retreat in their small side yard. The designer didn’t disappoint them.

Kearns used the space ingeniously. Water cascades from stacked-stone spillways composed of Three Rivers flagstone, meanders down a 40-foot-long stream bed and comes to rest in a 10-foot-diameter circular pool.

Visitors are greeted with surprises at every turn. The flagstone path that leads to the front door cantilevers right over the stream in places, giving them a view of dark, water-washed basalt boulders. Exotic plants flourish in the stream’s nooks and crannies, and provide a gorgeous privacy shield.

To ensure that the waterfeature looked realistic, the company lined the stream bed’s sealed gunite base with an artificial shoreline material. “We hand-mixed and hand-placed the material. It’s then acid washed, and carved and eroded with water pressure to create a natural look,” says Mark Machado, Wildwood’s project coordinator. “We went through a lot of pains to make it look like dirt.”

Waterproofing the project proved to be a challenge. Extreme care had to be taken to grout and seal potential trouble spots — for example, around the flagstone weirs and along the water’s edge, where the boulders meet the gunite shell. “Since we were using the rock as a spillway, we had to be careful with the waterproofing,” Kearns says. “We didn’t want the streams above to drain out.”

As a finishing touch, the crew embedded fiberoptic fixtures into the stream floor, providing subtle uplighting and spotlighting. The fixtures, which are nearly invisible, bathe the scene in a gentle glow.

“The customers were elated,” Kearns reports. “The overall feel takes you to another world that is more secluded. It’s far from the fishbowl environment they faced in the backyard.”