Aquascaping is an art form practiced by aquarium enthusiasts that entails arranging aquatic plants, as well as rocks, stones, cavework, or driftwood in an aesthetically pleasing manner within an aquarium.Typically, an aquascape includes fish as well as plants, although it is possible to create an aquascape with plants only, or even with rockwork or other hardscape and no plants. Although an aquascaper's primary aim is to create an artful underwater landscape, he or she is also necessarily concerned with the technical aspects of aquatic plant maintenance. Filtration, carbon dioxide supply at levels sufficient to support photosynthesis underwater, substrate and fertilization, lighting and algae control are among the many factors that must be balanced in the closed system of an aquarium tank to ensure the success of an aquascape. [Barry James (1986). A Fishkeeper's Guide to Aquarium Plants. (London: Tetra Press/Salamander Books) ISBN 0861012070.]

Aquascaping styles

Dutch style aquascapes

The Dutch aquarium follows an orderly, often symmetrical arrangement, in which multiple types of plants having diverse leaf colors, sizes and textures are displayed much as terrestrial plants are shown in a flower garden. This style was developed in the Netherlands starting in the 1930's, as freshwater aquarium equipment became commercially available. It emphasizes plants located on terraces of different heights, and frequently omits rocks and driftwood. Linear rows of plants running left-to-right are referred to as "Dutch streets." Tall growing plants that cover the back glass originally served the purpose of hiding bulky equipment in the tank.Matt Hennig (June, 2003). Amano versus Dutch: Two art forms in profile, "Tropical Fish Hobbyist", pp. 68-74. ]

Nature style aquascapes

A contrasting approach is the nature or Japanese style, introduced in the 1990's by Takashi Amano. Amano's three-volume series, "Nature Aquarium World," sparked a wave of interest in aquarium gardening, and he has been regarded as quite possibly the most influential aquascaper in the world. [Herbert R. Axelrod, Warren E. Burgess, Neal Pronek, Glen S. Axelrod and David E. Boruchowitz (1998). Aquarium Fishes of the World. (Neptune City, N.J.: T.F.H. Publications), p. 718 ISBN 0793804930.] Amano's compositions draw on Japanese gardening techniques that attempt to mimic natural landscapes by the asymmetrical arrangement of masses of relatively few species of plants, and carefully selected stones or driftwood. The objective is to evoke a landscape in miniature, rather than a colorful garden. This style draws particularly from the Japanese aesthetic concepts of "Wabi-sabi", which focuses on transience and minimalism, and "Iwagumi" ["Iwagumi and Sanzon Iwagumi Aquariums," [ Aquatic Eden website.] Feb. 11, 2007.] , which governs rock placement. Plants with small leaves are usually emphasized, with more limited colors than in the Dutch style, and fish or freshwater shrimp are usually selected to complement the plants and control algae.


The styles above often combine plant and animal species based on the desired visual impact, without regard to geographic origin. Biotope aquascapes are designed instead to replicate exactly a particular aquatic habitat at a particular geographic location, and not necessarily to provide a garden-like display. Plants and fish need not be present, but if they are, they as well as any gravel and hardscape must match what would be found in nature in the habitat being represented.


In a paludarium, part of the aquarium is underwater, and part is above water. This allows plants to grow emersed, with their roots underwater but their tops in the air, as well as completely submersed.

Saltwater reefs

Dutch and nature style aquascapes are traditionally freshwater systems. In contrast, relatively few ornamental plants can be grown in a saltwater aquarium. Saltwater aquascaping typically centers on mimicking a reef. An arrangement of live rock forms the main structure of this aquascape, and it is populated by corals and other marine invertebrates as well as coralline algae, which together serve much the same aesthetic role as freshwater plants.

Aquascaping contests

The [ Aquatic Gardeners Association] , based in the United States, and [ Aqua Design Amano] , based in Japan, both conduct annual freshwater aquascaping contests. Entries from around the world are submitted as photographs and explanatory text online. The Aquatic Gardeners Association contest is judged based on overall impression (35 points); composition, balance, use of space and use of color (30 points); selection and use of materials (20 points); and viability of aquascape (15 points).


External links

The following sites offer tutorials, images, and in-depth discussions on aquascaping styles and techniques:
* [ AquaScaping World Forum]
* [ AquaScaping World Magazine]
* [ Aquatic Gardener's Association]
* [ Great Aquascapes Group at Flickr]

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