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A Brief and Incomplete History of Aquascaping

tiger15

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I was going through my hobby book collection and re-read two old publications: The Hobbyist Guide to the Natural Aquarium by Tetra, and Exotic Tropical Fishes Expanded Edition by TFH, both published in early 1980s. The author of the Tetra plant guide is Gerhard Bruenner, former curator at the Institute for Applied Botany at the University of Hamburg, and the TFH encyclopedia with a 127-page chapter on aquarium plants written by 5 authors. I don't know how many of the authors are still alive as Bruenner, born in 1926, would be 94 if he is still around. These old publications provide historical perspective of the state of knowledge on plant keeping before Amano which I define as modern era of plant keeping.

These old guides have no mention of CO2 injection, liquid carbon, aqua soil, and hardly any epiphytes. They recommend the use of washed gravel for substrate and against the use of aqua soil except capped in pots to prevent mess. Tetra guide recommends the use of water column fertilizer Tetra Florapride and root tab Tetra Crypto, both are still sold today notwithstanding many new competitions. Tetra guide listed Java fern as the only epiphyte among 50 popular Aquatic Plants, and TFH guide mentioned only two Anubias and moss species. Apparently, epiphytes were not popular in the old days and no wonder Bolbitis, Buce, and many species of Anubias, Java fern, mosses and carpet plants were not mentioned at all. On the other hand, the plants recommended were all easy plants, such as Cryptocoryn, Vals, Echinodorus, Ludwigia, Hygrophila, Hydrocotyle, Limnophila, Rotala, etc that are commonly use in low tech tanks today. What's nice is that the plant species names remain the same and immediately recognizable to me, which is unlike fish species names that have changed multiple times since I first learn them.

In term of trouble shooting and fixing plant problems, not much tool was available in the old days except for recommending more frequent water change, fertilizer balancing, and light management. I read these guides and tried plants briefly in the 1980s, but gave up due to BBA infestation. I never stop keeping fish though and restarted my planted tanks a few years ago. What a big difference today in the amount of information and tool (CO2 and liquid carbon) available to enable plant keeping easier to succeed for newbies.
 

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tiger15

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I’m surprised by that as I was already experimenting with co2 in about ‘85. Tetra used to sell a set not dissimilar to the Tropica system 60 and pressurised co2 systems were already available by the likes of Dupla.
My TFH publication copy right date is 1980. I cannot find the copy right date for my Tetra publication which I assumed to be no later than 1981-2 when I bought it. So you are right that Tetra may have started selling CO2 system around 1985. What is important is not when CO2 became first available, but when CO2 use became popular. I saw the first CO2 set up in a LFS in early 1990s, around the same time Amano published his 3 volume Nature Aquarium gallery in 1994. So I would define the modern era of aquascaping by Amano in early to mid 1990s, coinciding with the popularity of CO2 use around the same time. I do not know when liquid carbon is first used, which is also a turning point for modern aquascaping.
 
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Tim Harrison

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I do not know when liquid carbon is first used, which is also a turning point for modern aquascaping.
That's an interesting observation. Do you mean in terms of algae control or growing plants? It'd be good to get a better understanding of how LC fits in with the whole aquascaping story.
 

lilirose

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This is fascinating to me- I got my first tank in 1981, but somehow it never occurred to me to use living plants until 2018. Yes, you read that right, I had tanks with plastic plants for nearly 40 years.

In the places where I lived, I didn't see aquatic plants for sale until after 2010- or if I did, they were dying, leading me to think that aquatic plants were difficult to grow, and when they died they'd irretrievably foul the tank. I guess I just somehow had a blind spot when shopping in a LFS, but I had never even heard of CO2 injection until I found George Farmer's YouTube channel. I'm astonished to hear that people were starting to play with CO2 in the 80s. I'm learning so much from this thread! :D
 

tiger15

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That's an interesting observation. Do you mean in terms of algae control or growing plants? It'd be good to get a better understanding of how LC fits in with the whole aquascaping story.
For algae control, LC effectiveness is positively confirmed by toxicity tests which I have compiled below.

Toxicity of glutaraldehyde
96h acute Bluegill sunfish LC50 = 11.2 mg/L
Bluegill sunfish NOEC = 10 mg/L
48h acute Oyster larvae LC50 = 2.1 mg/L
96h acute Green crabs LC50 = 465 mg/L
96h acute Grass shrimp LC50 = 41 mg/L
48h acute Daphnia magna LC50 = 0.35 mg/L
Daphnia magna NOEC = 0.32 mg/L
96h algal growth inhibition Selenastrum capricornutum ILm = 3.9 mg/L
Algal inhibition Selenastrum subcapitata IC50=1 to 1.8 mg/L
96h algal growth inhibition Scenedesmus subspicatus EC50 = 0.9 mg/L
Bacterial inhibition Sewage microbes IC50 = 25-34 mg/L
96h O. mykiss (Trout hatch rate) IC50 = 1.82 mg/L
96h C. dubia (Daphnia reproduction) IC50 = 4.7 mg/L

*EC=Effective concentration; IC=Inhibition concentration; LC=Lethal concentration;
NOEC=No observed effect concentration

For enhanced plant growth, Seachem makes the claim based on theoretical speculation. I cannot find a single test data confirmation though. But Glut is indispensable for many low tech tanks, before balancing a new setup, or running into algae problem for variety of reasons. If Glut can suppress algae that blocks off light, it will have the effect of enhancing growth but for the wrong reason.

I used Glut following Seachem daily and after WC dosage to start my set up and found it helpful. Now that my tanks are balanced and largely algae free, I still administer initial Glut dosage after weekly water change. My intent is not to enhance growth as I have CO2 injection, but if Glut can prevent algae, it is helpful.
 

Tim Harrison

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I guess for some folk it's possible it gives them more wriggle room but do you reckon it's really played that much of a significant role in the hobby, especially when hydrogen peroxide essentially does the same thing? And if so when do you think it's influence began to become important ?

I've had many successful scapes that haven't been dosed with LC at all, both low and high energy. When I first started out, more years ago than I care to mention, I was pretty much limited to water and capped soil and had fantastic plant growth and no algae to mention so needed neither LC nor H2O2. And I figure most folks that had reasonably good success back then share a similar experience.
 

tiger15

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This is fascinating to me- I got my first tank in 1981, but somehow it never occurred to me to use living plants until 2018. Yes, you read that right, I had tanks with plastic plants for nearly 40 years.

In the places where I lived, I didn't see aquatic plants for sale until after 2010- or if I did, they were dying, leading me to think that aquatic plants were difficult to grow, and when they died they'd irretrievably foul the tank. I guess I just somehow had a blind spot when shopping in a LFS, but I had never even heard of CO2 injection until I found George Farmer's YouTube channel. I'm astonished to hear that people were starting to play with CO2 in the 80s. I'm learning so much from this thread! :D
Growing plants with fish has been around for as long as fish keeping for centuries. But growing plants as aquascape focus is a recent invention by the Japanese and Dutch. It may not happen if Internet hasn’t popularize it in early 1990s when Amano, CO2, and internet itself became available.
 

hypnogogia

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But growing plants as aquascape focus is a recent invention by the Japanese and Dutch. It may not happen if Internet hasn’t popularize it in early 1990s when Amano, CO2, and internet itself became available.
I’m sorry, but that simply isn’t true. My LFS was already selling plants in the early 80s, and some of the shops had great displays of fish and plants. I remember shops in Germany already using CO2 in their display tanks. My father introduced me to the hobby in the 70’s when we had a planted aquarium at home. It’s true to say that internet and YouTube has made information more accessible, but books already covered this hobby, and Dutch stösst planting developed in the 1930, so not that recent. Whilst it is true to say that Amano had a great positive influence on the hobby, let’s not kid ourselves that great planted tanks didn’t exist before that time.
 

tiger15

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I guess for some folk it's possible it gives them more wriggle room but do you reckon it's really played that much of a significant role in the hobby, especially when hydrogen peroxide essentially does the same thing? And if so when do you think it's influence began to become important ?

I've had many successful scapes that haven't been dosed with LC at all, both low and high energy. When I first started out, more years ago than I care to mention, I was pretty much limited to water and capped soil and had fantastic plant growth and no algae to mention so needed neither LC nor H2O2. And I figure most folks that had reasonably good success back then share a similar experience.
You may be right that I might have over played the role of LC. Peroxide probably works as good and cheaper. My old plant guides have no mention on LC or peroxide, Walstad and Amano don‘t use either, only Tom Barr used both. But most aquarists have low tech and when they run into algae or stunt growth problems, they resort to LC marketed by multiple vendors and it works for them. Without LC, they would likely given up plants so it still makes a difference in the hobby.
 

Tim Harrison

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I don't think the Dutch nor the Japanese have ever claimed to have invented aquascaping. For instance, I was just one of many folk who started aquascaping back in the late 70s early 80s, using rocks from local quarries and bog wood which was sold in pet stores.

Admittedly, the number of plant species available from pet stores back then was limited and many of them were really terrestrial plants. But you could mail order more exotic aquatic species via companies that placed adverts in periodicals like the one I mentioned in the article, Aquarist and Pond Keeper. Further, pressurised CO2 has been used for growing aquatic plants since the 1960s.

Sure the internet has spread the word and folk like Amano have done much to popularise the hobby using the Nature Aquarium concept. But aquascaping was around long before that and in a very similar form. It's just a facsimile of nature when all said and done, and it's a shared experience, so nothing really unique about it. Other folk just didn't have the urge or the business acumen to package it and give it a name for commercial gain.
 

tiger15

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May be I should use the word popularized rather than invented. Very few things are invented, most are repurposed or popularized. Your brief history mentioned that CO2 injection idea was first come up in the 1960s, patterned by a German company in 1970s, but not popularized until 1990s by the Dutch, theJapanese, and the internet (who’s first).

Not just man made, in natural selection, feather was not evolved inventively so birds can fly but already there in Dino for insulation, and lungs were not evolved inventively to live on land but already present in many fish species in different forms to survive in low oxygen water.
 

crmartin

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A Brief and Incomplete History of Aquascaping


I’m guessing Raymond also frowned upon deep sea divers, sunken galleons, and treasure chests too, and with good reason.”

A book published in 1970 entitled The Complete Guide to Freshwater Tropical Fish, edited by Raymond Legge, makes one of the first printed references, that I’ve found, to aquascaping as an actual thing. It devotes several paragraphs to what was then considered its finer principles. ‘Rockwork may be very pleasantly incorporated, particularly in larger aquaria. Natural water-worn limestone and rocks from the seashore are both pleasing and safe…Artificial rocks, arches, caves, and monstrous backgrounds should be treated with caution, and are not recommended’.' I’m guessing Raymond also frowned upon deep sea divers, sunken galleons, and treasure chests too, and with good reason.

View attachment 144921
Detail from a Nature Aquarium, scape by Tim Harrison

So what exactly is aquascaping? That go to online encyclopaedia defines aquascaping as ‘…the craft of arranging aquatic plants, as well as rocks, stone…or driftwood,in an aesthetically pleasing manner within an aquarium — in effect, gardening underwater’. And I guess to the uninitiated that seems like a perfectly adequate definition. However, it involves a lot more besides. For a start, aquascaping is more of an art than a craft. It’s also demanding of the natural sciences. Aquascapers also increasingly borrow from the visual arts, especially photography and filmmaking. Further, there are different styles of aquascape; Dutch style, Japanese style or Nature Aquarium style, diorama style, jungle style, and biotope style. Then there are styles which aren’t really aquascapes but fit snugly within the arts fundamental ethos of bringing a tiny slice of nature indoors - biospheres, paludariums, terrascapes, ripariums, and wabi-kusa etc.


It looked more like a device for torturing its unfortunate inhabitants, or for making exotic soup...”

However, before we continue to explore the fathomable depths of aquascaping history, I feel compelled to make some reference to the origins of the aquarium, and in particular fish keeping, since the roots of aquascaping are firmly embedded in that side of the hobby. One of my earliest memories of the hobby is from a dog-eared book I found in a junk shop; it was published sometime before the First World War. I remember sliding it from a bookcase and turning to the opening section which showed the reader how to build an aquarium from a biscuit tin, a pane of glass and a lump of linseed oil putty. The brief description was accompanied by a Lowry-esque drawing of a Heath Robinson contraption heated with a small methylated spirits burner. It looked more like a device for torturing its unfortunate inhabitants, or for making exotic soup rather than an aquatic showcase for tropical fish and plants. Thankfully, the aquarium has come a long way since then.


Source: Tropical Aquarium Plants and Fishes by Laurence Wells (1966)

Various sources place the origin of the aquarium somewhere in the distant fog of antiquity, between large Chinese porcelain bowls housing goldfish, and flat sided glass fronted marble tanks, supposedly used by the Romans to keep much cherished sea barbel. But it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the aquariums we are more familiar with today were first conceived by the keenest of naturalists, and perhaps the most innovative amongst our ancestors, the Victorians.

A particularly brilliant English chemist, Robert Warrington, has been credited with developing the original aquarium concept in 1850. Warrington effectively placed that fundament of life on earth, the oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle, in to a glass box full of water. He conducted an experiment to prove that properly done an aquarium could become a self-sustaining ecosystem; aquatic plants provide fish with oxygen and the fish in turn provide the plants with carbon dioxide, and on ad infinitum.

View attachment 173240
Chinese porcelain goldfish bowl

View attachment 144923
Ornate Victorian aquarium

Another Victorian gentleman, and prominent naturalist, Philip Gosse (also an Englishman), coined the term “aquarium” by cleverly combining latin for water, “aqua", with “arium”, latin for a place associated with a specific function. Gosse also catalysed the aquarium craze that subsequently swept through the homes of the Victorian gentry; he created the World's first public aquarium at London Zoo in 1853. This was greatly facilitated by his groundbreaking manual published in 1854, The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea.

View attachment 144924
London zoo aquarium, 1853

Fast forward a century to the 1950s. Mass production coupled with the invention of plastic shipping bags and airfreight ensured that an aquarium stocked with tropical fish became an affordable and popular addition to the interior of many homes. American entrepreneur, author, publisher, and fish expert, Dr Herbert Axelrod, started Tropical Fish Hobbyist (TFH) Magazine, and founded TFH Publications, one of the largest publishers of aquarium books in the world. He also wrote many books on tropical fish which, in the pre-internet era, became important sources of reference and inspiration. By the 1960s silicon sealant became widely available and another American, Martin Horowitz, used it to construct the first all glass tank. And then in the latter part of the twentieth century a Japanese man began to exert a huge influence on design and innovation within the aquarium industry. His name was Takashi Amano, and he’d eventually become known as the father of modern aquascaping.


“Flushed with drink and excitement, I poured the five bottles in. Within five minutes air bubbles formed on the leaves.”

At this juncture, it’s perhaps appropriate to mention CO2 fertilisation and the part it’s played in the recent history of aquascaping. It is possible to grow many aquatic plant species without additional CO2 and to create a beautiful planted tank using a low-tech or low-energy method. Perhaps the best known is the Walstad Method, first described by the eponymous American Diana Walstad in her groundbreaking book Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, published in 1999. However, it's not a technique usually associated with aquascaping, which typically relies on pressurised CO2 to grow healthy aquatic plants.

Some of the first references to the use of CO2 fertilisation can be found as far back as the early 1960s. In 1962 Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine published an article describing how members of The Aquarium Club of Copenhagen Denmark used yeast fermentation to produce CO2. The first references to the use of pressurised CO2 start to appear a few years later. And in 1971 a German company, HILENA (which later became Dupla), patented the first pressurised CO2 system.

A book published in 1978 entitled The Complete Aquarium Encyclopaedia, edited by Dutchman Dr. J. D. Van Ramshorst, not only makes reference to pressurised CO2, but also to its importance and growing availability. 'In any aquarium there must be an adequate supply of carbon dioxide: if there is insufficient the plants will be unable to play their full and necessary part in keeping, in turn, the right balance of oxygen. Some very good equipment is now available which gradually diffuse carbon dioxide throughout a tank, using the cartridges sold for soda siphons.’

View attachment 144925
CO2 injected Nature Aquarium, scape by Tim Harrison

About a year earlier, just before Dr. Van Ramshorst book was published, Takashi Amano had been struggling to grow aquatic plants and strongly suspected that lack of CO2 was to blame. Many aquascapers are familiar with his story, “Five Bottles of Carbonated Water”. Frustrated he struggled on, trying to grow plants without CO2 until, ‘…one night I went to a bar with a friend and a clear bottle of carbonated water caught my eye…I took five bottles home with me. Flushed with drink and excitement, I poured the five bottles in (to my tank). Within five minutes air bubbles formed on the leaves…Every tank I added the soda water to did well…If I hadn’t discovered that carbonated water when I did, I surely would have given up on the whole idea of aquatic plant aquaria’. That's a sobering thought, imagine an aquascaping world without Takashi Amano and Nature Aquarium; all for the want of CO2…


"...IAPLC had to change the judging criteria to favour the more traditional Japanese Nature Aquarium style over its enfant terrible..."

Before we continue with Takashi Amano's story let’s also first consider the point in history where the actual aquascaping journey began. It’s difficult to determine with any degree of certainty but many reckon the answer can be found somewhere in 1930s Netherlands, when the Dutch style mentioned above was first developed by NBAT, the Dutch Society for Aquarists. This early form of aquascaping probably has much in common with the increasing popularity of fish keeping following the First World War, in that both owe their existence to the increasing availability of mass produced aquarium products. Products like angle iron braced glass tanks, mechanical air pumps, immersion heaters, and the incandescent light bulb. The Dutch style is where aquascaping first started to diverge from the traditional fish keeping aquarium and become a distinct entity in its own right. Where the fish were chosen to complement the planting and no longer the main attraction.

View attachment 144926
Dutch style

The Dutch style also gave the aquascaping world its first competitions, and as anyone in business will know competition is essential for driving development and growth and perhaps of greater relevance, as far as aquascaping is concerned, change. Inevitably, as competitors tried to outdo their peers in a bid for victory, the Dutch style evolved and perhaps hints of what might become other aquascaping styles may have begun to emerge as a consequence. The need for NBAT to publish general guidelines in 1956 to maintain the purity of the Dutch style would certainly seem to suggest so. A similar phenomenon has occurred in recent years and possibly stands testament to this hypothesis. The world's premier aquascaping competition IAPLC (The International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest) had to change the weighting of the judging criteria to favour the more traditional Japanese Nature Aquarium style over its enfant terrible, the Diorama style. More on that later.

The Dutch stye differs from other styles of aquascaping by virtue of the fact that it relies solely on the colours and textures of aquatic plants to create its aesthetic without the complement of wood and rock hardscape, which characterise the contrasting Japanese styles. Done expertly the overall effect is somewhat akin to the spectacular terrestrial flower gardens created by contemporary designers the ilk of Gertrude Jekyll, and is more contrived than the Japanese styles which aim to mimic nature more closely.

View attachment 144927
Jungle style

A halfway house between Dutch style and Japanese Nature Aquarium is perhaps the Jungle style. The Jungle style aims to replicate wild and untamed nature and is dominated by course textures and very dense planting. On one hand it’s easy to see how it might have evolved directly from the Dutch style, and eventually morphed in to the Nature Aquarium style. On the other hand some purists might get a bit hot under the collar at the mere suggestion of such heresy and perceive it as stealing the thunder of the Titan who first coined the phrase Nature Aquarium and who also popularised the style back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Of course I’m talking about none other than the father of modern aquascaping, Takashi Amano.


“One who cannot love her smallest creations, cannot claim to stand before nature”.

Takashi Amano, was born in Niigata, Japan in 1954. He grew up to become an international track cyclist and environmental photographer and, crucially for the development of modern aquascaping, a highly successful innovator and entrepreneur. As a child he immersed himself in nature, especially in the wetlands that surrounded his home. Later he would despair as the world's natural habitats rapidly dwindled in the wake of increasing development, and he resolved to capture what was left of this precious resource on camera. His subsequent photographic exhibitions and books have done much to inspire many generations of conservationists and aquascapers alike.

Frustrated by the paucity of dedicated aquascaping equipment Amano eventually founded the Japanese aquascaping company Aqua Design Amano (ADA) in 1982. His minimalistic designs and innovations have had a significant impact on the aquascaping industry and continue to do so. Takashi Amano also introduced the aquascaping world to Caridina multidentata, subsequently popularised as the Amano shrimp. But perhaps his most influential contribution to aquascaping is Nature Aquarium World, a three-book series on aquascaping, published in 1994 by TFH Publications. Amano used the books to showcase the Nature Aquarium concept that still defines modern aquascaping today.

View attachment 144928
Takashi Amano

Nature Aquarium is often thought of as expressing an essentially Japanese ambiance through the traditional aesthetics of wabi-sabi and its harmonious interplay of natural elements, and acceptance of the transience and imperfection of nature. Its fundamental concept originates from the ethos, ‘One who cannot love her smallest creations, cannot claim to stand before nature’. And it aims to recreate the beauty of a natural ecosystem in a “glass”. To bring indoors a slice of nature from outside as an antidote to the pressures and stresses of the modern and increasingly urban world, and to remind us of what we might lose if we don’t cherish the natural world.

Takashi Amano’s crowning glory Nature Aquarium is arguably Forests Underwater in Lisbon Oceanarium Portugal. It’s an astounding aquascape created in a 40 metre long, 160,000 litre aquarium. Unfortunately Takashi passed away shortly after it was completed in 2015. However, Forests Underwater remains today as a fitting legacy to the Grandmaster’s creative genius. It was originally commissioned as a temporary exhibit but it has proven an enduring success. Accordingly, the Oceanarium has recently announced that Forests Underwater will remain open to the public indefinitely.

View attachment 144929
Forests Underwater

Although the world will probably never see the like of Takashi Amano again many aquascapers have since taken over the mantle and risen to the challenge of promoting aquascaping. And as the popularity of the hobby has grown more than a handful have seized the opportunity to become professional aquascapers. Some of the best known of these are, Oliver Knott, Jurijs Jutjajevs, Filipe Oliveira, and UK aquascaper George Farmer. I could go on but this article would start to read like a who’s who of aquascaping. So for now I’ll just write a little about our very own George Farmer.

George has a global following, and both his YouTube channel and Instagram page are runaway successes. Like many aquascapers of his generation he was first inspired by Takashi Amano, and has in turn inspired many more to take up the hobby. George didn’t keep his first aquarium until 2003, but soon became obsessed with aquascaping and in just a few short years found himself juggling life in the Royal Air Force with a burgeoning career as a freelance writer and photographer specialising in planted aquariums and aquascaping. In 2013, after a difficult tour in the Middle East as a bomb disposal operative, George left the RAF and begin a new career in the aquatics industry. Around a year later he finally become a fully fledged aquascaping pro.

View attachment 144930
Aquascaping workshop with George Farmer at Destination Aquatics Milton Keynes


“…it remains one of the best online sources of aquascaping information…and advice in the world…but then I could be biased.”

Amongst his many aquascaping achievements, George is a founding member of the United Kingdom Aquatic Plant Society, or UKAPS for short, an online aquascaping forum which went live in 2007. Contrary to its name it has become a truly international community actively enjoyed by aquascapers from all four corners of the globe; at the time of writing over 15,200 members strong and still growing. In short, it remains one of the best sources of aquascaping information, shared knowledge and advice in the world…but then I could be biased.

Another such forum that has been hugely influential is the Barr Report, founded by Californian Tom Barr. Tom is best known for promoting the idea that inorganic nutrients do not cause algae, and in 2005 along with others, developed a method of eutrophic fertiliser dosing called Estimative Index (EI). EI was considered an heretical concept at the time and initially met with much resistance, but it eventually caused a paradigm shift and changed the face of aquascaping. As an aside, Tom also helped set up UKAPS and initially hosted it on the Barr Report where it still has its own section today.


“The Diorama style typically depicts a terrestrial landscape…where the fish sometimes incongruously translate as birds.”

Following in the traditions of the Dutch style, aquascaping competitions have done much to promote the hobby in recent years. The International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest (IAPLC), already mentioned above, is the world's largest, and considered by many to be the world championships of aquascaping. It was launched in 2001 and is hosted by Takashi Amano’s company, ADA. The inaugural contest attracted a total of 557 entries from 19 countries. Since then its popularity has grown year on year and now it usually gains more than 2,000 entries from over 60 countries across the globe.

It was originally conceived as a way to promote both the hobby and the Nature Aquarium concept. However, as also mentioned above the competition went through a period where it was dominated by the Southeast Asian Diorama style, which many scapers saw as a corruption rather than an evolution of Nature Aquarium. The Diorama style typically depicts a terrestrial landscape like mountains, forests, or open plains, where the fish incongruously translate as birds. As such, the two styles are apples and oranges.

View attachment 144931
Diorama style “Whisper of the Pines” by Serkan ÇETİNKOL

It’s also a well documented fact that larger scapes tend to do best in the IAPLC. However, there are other competitions where smaller tanks do a lot better. The Aquatic Gardeners Association (AGA) International Aquascaping Contest is perhaps the best known of these. Unlike the IAPLC it has separate categories for some aquascaping styles and aquarium sizes. The AGA contest started in 2000 and like the IAPLC attracts many entrants from across the globe. Both are online contests and competitors have to submit images of their work for judging. Both organisations claim their contests are not photography competitions but a high quality image is key to success.

Live aquascaping contests are popular as well, and AGA also present the Aquascaping Live contest as part of Aquatic Experience, a large aquatics convention held in the USA. Similarly, Pet World Trade Show, held in Magdeburg Germany, host The Art of the Planted Aquarium, another live contest. In march 2016 UKAPS also held its own live aquascaping contest as part of its Aquascaping Experience at the Icon Innovation Centre Daventry UK, which was an overwhelming success.

View attachment 144932
Contestants select hardscape, UKAPS Aquascaping Experience


"Tropica’s approach perhaps highlights the importance of synergy between business and customer..."

Aquascaping has breathed new life in to the aquarium hobby industry. Many traditional manufacturers have realised the market potential of dedicated aquascaping products. This has broken ADA’s monopoly and prices of quality aquascaping merchandise have fallen in recent years. Accordingly, the hobby has become even more accessible, in turn increasing demand, market penetration, and the frequency of new product launches. It’s also seen the development of many fledgling aquascaping businesses.

Some established manufacturers of note are Dennerle, which produce the Scapers range of products. Another is Evolution Aqua, perhaps best known for its range of Aquascaper aquariums which were developed in collaboration with George Farmer. Kessil and Ecco Tech Marine have built upon their saltwater credentials and produce high end intelligent lighting solutions for freshwater aquariums. Relative newcomers from Southeast Asia, Chihiros and TwinStar, have taken the aquascaping market by storm with their algae busting gadgets and reasonably priced LED lights.

Tropica is another big name among the aquascaping community that produces a range of aquascaping products. But it is best known for growing high quality aquatic plants. Tropica is a Danish company founded by Holger Windeløv in 1970. It has done much to support the aquascaping community and accordingly the business has grown and developed in tandem with the increasing popularity of the hobby. Tropica’s approach perhaps highlights the importance of synergy between business and customer, which on the whole typifies the spirit of cooperation and support common throughout the aquascaping community.

Another business worthy of note is CO2 Art. It was originally started in 2013 by Karol Maleska around the corner from where I used to live in Milton Keynes UK. Now located in Germany, it’s a brand with a global presence. It was perhaps the first to develop reasonably priced high quality CO2 regulators and put together complete CO2 systems. In doing so CO2 Art greatly demystified the dark art of CO2 injection and bought it within easy reach of most hobbyists.


“All these bricks and mortar businesses have one thing in common, they are run by hobbyists with a passion for aquascaping…”

At a time when the high street is shrinking perhaps the growing popularity of aquascaping is no more apparent than in the opening of dedicated independent bricks and mortar retail outlets. Stores like Scaped Nature in Norwich, and Riverwood Aquatics in Suffolk. Another is Aquarium Gardens in Huntingdon, set up by Dave and Katie Pierce several years ago. The Aquarium Gardens showroom is the epitome of aquascaping excellence and inspiration with over 10 live aquascapes on display; well worth a visit. Elsewhere in Europe, Hungarian aquascapers Viktor Lantos, Balázs Farkasaii, and Attila Néder have been running Green Aqua, a successful aquascaping business, for many years. Recently Green Aqua relocated to a purpose built store in Budapest, its architecture inspired by ADA headquarters in Japan.

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Filipe Oliveira workshop in the Aquarium Gardens showroom. Credit Tim Harrison

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Green Aqua showroom

All these bricks and mortar businesses have one thing in common, they are run by hobbyists with a passion for aquascaping, which means their customers all benefit from a wealth of experience and knowledge. Bricks and mortar stores also give their customers a place to meet and chat about the hobby, try out hardscape and bounce ideas off one another and to learn from aquascaping workshops.


“The aquascaping community is much more besides, in that it has de facto become an international force for promoting environmental awareness…”

I can’t really call this a history of aquascaping without at least mentioning the growing influence that social media has had on the development of aquascaping. I touched on it above when I mentioned George’s success. But all of those mentioned above have created hugely successful social media stories as well. For businesses it makes commercial sense, but for many of those run by enthusiasts like Aquarium Gardens, and Green Aqua it’s also about being part of a wider global community, just as it is for the rest of us. And it’s a global community that we’ve all helped to create. A community that has united people from disparate cultures and social backgrounds and from all four corners of the globe through shared interest. That in itself is remarkable, but the aquascaping community is much more besides, in that it has de facto become an international force for promoting environmental awareness and instilling greater responsibility toward the natural world.


“Some years later, during the 1990s, it disappeared from the newsagents shelves; I never did find out what happened to it."

Before the social media revolution aquatic magazines and journals held sway. As a child my parents bought me a subscription to a monthly magazine called The Aquarist and Pondkeeper. It had the usual mix of freshwater, marine, and pond articles, but uniquely it also had a section on aquatic plants, which I used to turn to first. Some years later, during the 1990s, it disappeared from the newsagents shelves; I never did find out what happened to it. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine was always a constant presence as well, but it’s perhaps more familiar to our American cousins; it’s published in the US. Moving forward Practical Fish Keeping became the staple, and with the likes of George Farmer on board and a sympathetic editorial team, it started to print aquascaping articles on a regular basis. In 2012 it even managed an exclusive scoop, publishing an article written by the Grand Master, Takashi Amano.

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Aquarist and Pondkeeper magazine

Dedicated aquascaping journals have always been a bit thin on the ground but one of the most enduring has to be ADA’s Aqua Journal, first published in 1994. Essentially the magazine keeps aquascapers up to date with the latest ADA products, news and techniques for creating Nature Aquarium. Nowadays most magazines and journals are also available electronically, which is perhaps the swansong for good old fashioned print. The printed version of ADA’s Aqua Journal is now only available in Japanese. The rest of the world have to view it electronically. Likewise in 2013 Polish aquascaper Norbert Sabat produced an online aquascaping journal called Liquid Nature. However, as far as I know only two issues were ever published, which is a great shame since it was visually stunning and very well written.


“The need to reconnect with nature, even in some small way, is perhaps more compelling and important now than it’s ever been.”

The global popularity of aquascaping is largely a 21st century phenomenon. It has come a long way from its early 20th century Dutch origins were it gradually gained traction and then momentum. It has grown from a very small niche within the fish keeping hobby, to a size where it’s achieved a critical mass capable of supporting a dedicated industry. Undoubtedly, it owes much to Takashi Amano’s Nature Aquarium concept. But its very recent history has also been written by the collaborative efforts of many aquascapers, magazines like PFK, social media, product manufactures, aquatic plant growers, and forums like UKAPS. All of which have made an important and influential contribution to the hobby.

The future of aquascaping is bright and its popularity continues to grow apace, perhaps as an antidote to the stresses and strains that modern life inflicts on us all. That, and more and more people are living in cities with high density housing and becoming increasingly divorced from the natural world. Accordingly, the need to reconnect with nature, even in some small way, is perhaps more compelling and important now than it’s ever been. Aquascaping allows people to do just that…to care for a tiny slice of nature in their home.

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A tiny slice of nature in my home. Credit Tim Harrison
I'm just amazed to read this history. it's really so much informatics.
 
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