Keeping an aquarium is more than just caring for different aquatic animals. For some people, the layout and design of the aquarium itself is a source of joy, providing them with the chance to create landscapes and designs that look great when displayed in the living room or the office.
What Is Aquascaping?
Creating mesmerizing landscapes in water-filled tanks or aquariums is called aquascaping. Think of it as underwater gardening where enthusiasts try to create elaborate gardens utilizing underwater plants to create an out-of-this-world design enhanced by the majestic ripples of water.
Aquascaping isn’t always done with the intent of housing aquatic creatures in the tank. For some, the whole discipline is about creating aesthetically pleasing designs; others, however, aquascape with the intent of creating an environment where aquatic creatures will thrive. Regardless of core intention of the aquascape artist, the end result is a beautifully designed garden.
How to Aquascape Your Aquarium
One thing you should keep in mind is that aquascaping takes patience and an extensive knowledge on several subjects including botany, lighting, balance, water, aesthetics, and more. The practice doesn’t just involve putting plants where you want them but rather – coaxing these plants to grow the way you wish. Following this principle, it isn’t uncommon for some enthusiasts to take years before their work is completed.
The basics of aquascaping are pretty simple. You’ll need a relatively large tank, a substrate where the plants may grow, your choice of plants, and creating the perfect environment where they can grow. The underlying principles however, are much more complex as every intended design takes into account different factors. Generally however, the accepted goals and techniques for aquascaping include:
Keeping It Simple – aquascaping is a little like the art of flower arrangement wherein less is considered more. Although numerous plants are very tempting, the goal here is to create a harmonious environment wherein all plants will thrive. Think of a forest where all the plants growing rely on the same factors to prosper. You wouldn’t expect a desert plant to grow together with cold-climate plants, would you?
Variety of Plants – this might seem to contradict the previous statement, but keep in mind that keeping a single plant doesn’t exactly bode well for the overall aesthetic value of the tank. Your goal here is to create a theme using different plants with sizes, shapes, and colors that complement each other!
Balance and Proportions – this is perhaps the hallmark of aesthetic beauty: balance and proportions. You want to fill every available space of the tank without being too garish about it. Ideally, you should be able to create balance between one side and another without creating mirror images of the left and right portions of the tank.
Perhaps the best way to start your aquascaping experiments is by checking out the works of different artists in the field. The internet is full of aquascape designs, each one more imaginative than the last. Regardless of the end result however, aquascape typically falls into specific design categories:
This one used to be incredibly popular but has since been forgotten in favor of other styles. The defining characteristic of this technique is the presence of figurines along the bottom of the tank, implying that there’s life in the scenery.
This particular method makes good use of multiple plants in varying colors, creating a sense of depth using only plants. This means that you won’t see much stone or rocks in the tank but a layer of plants usually cover the bottom, creating layers and the illusion of roads.
As the name suggests, this is where the tank is made to look like a jungle, therefore giving the artist as much leeway as possible with the plants. Note though that this is best used for large tanks to fully convey the ‘jungle’ effect.
The Biotope Style is common among researchers trying to replicate the natural environment of an aquatic organism. Essentially, this technique promotes the simulation of a natural environment wherein the plants and various other elements complement each other. The great thing about this is that you don’t have to check whether the plants are compatible each other because they already coexist in the wild.
If you’re looking for a place to start, this is probably the best one. The Walstad Method isn’t really aiming for beauty but rather, just creating a natural environment where plants can thrive. What makes this unique is that the concept of beauty isn’t really a factor and that the plants are placed together randomly, as opposed to the Biotope Technique. Hence, you’ll be doing a lot of research on which plants are compatible with each other but on the plus side, you’ll be able to use whatever plant you happen to have on hand.
As opposed to the Walstad and Biotope styles, the Nature Aquarium seeks to create terrestrial landscapes underwater. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful approaches today as artists try to create mountains, hills, valleys, and the like through aquascaping. The possibilities are extensive and more often than not, a Nature Aquarium makes good use of hardscapes.
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Iwagumi Style, started by the father of the craft: Takashi Amano. The discipline is quite specific and characterized by the placement of rocks in accordance with the Golden Ratio. This means always having an odd placement of rocks in the tank, aesthetically arranged together with a minimal number of plants and lots of open space. Unlike other techniques, the goal here is to prevent balance which oddly enough – results to a very appealing aquascape. Scaling is crucial here and the use of the right materials can help with the overall look.
Aquscaping takes time and patience – but it is definitely worth it. In fact, there are layout competitions for aquascaping, the biggest one being the International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest. Check out the different past and present entries in the contest to get an idea of what you want. Start with your own personal sense of beauty before experimenting with different techniques.