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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Underwater gardening

Learn about aquascaping and its rudiments
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - December 18, 2010
By: Wong Wei Chen
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Underwater gardening

Aquascaping is the art of arranging rock, wood, plants and substrate in an aesthetically pleasing manner within your aquarium. In a manner of speaking, it is the aquatic counterpart of gardening, so you aren’t going far off the mark if you describe the activity as “underwater gardening”.

Properly done, aquascaping can transform an otherwise spartan-looking setup into a delightful showpiece. In addition to its artistic value, an aquascape serves a functional purpose: it furnishes hiding places for timid fish, and, in general, provides a sense of security for all tank inhabitants.

Before we delve into the details, let’s look at some general guidelines that will help make your effort a success.

Plan ahead
This goes without saying. If you’re ambitious, aquascaping can become a complex task that takes hours or even days. Like most other complex tasks, planning is crucial. If necessary, sketch a layout before you even position the first rock.

Setting grey-coloured stones against a grey backdrop is self-defeating. The idea is to go for contrast. There are no hard-and-fast rules here, so you may have to experiment a little to see what looks best.

If you’re thinking of including plants in your setup, go for a mix with different leaf sizes and colours. Red plants, especially, can give greater contrast.

Add water first Don’t start aquascaping in a dry tank, because once water is added, plants will spread out and appear different. Put your tallest plant in, then fill the tank until the water surface is slightly above this plant. Decorating your tank with water already inside ensures that what you see at the outset will be what you get when your work is done.

Symmetrical blunders
Symmetry is probably interesting only when you’re doing geometry or trigonometry. In natural environments, you won’t find two rocks that are exactly 5cm away from a centre point on each side (if you do, let me know!). And you also won’t find plants neatly clumped together in groups of three or four, equidistant from one another.

Too much symmetry makes your aquascape look contrived and unnatural. Try to ruffle things up a little – messy is sexy.

Have a focal point
Create a main point of interest in your aquascape (an analogy from photography would be to have an interesting subject in the foreground). The main attraction can be an outstanding piece of rock, or a plant with vibrant colours. Arrange other objects such that they highlight the point of interest and guide your eye towards it naturally.

Depending on the size of your tank, you may opt for either one or two focal points. Anything more than two is overkill, and the whole display becomes distracting and confusing.

Bear in mind my advice on symmetry. Don’t position your focal point squarely in the centre of the tank. Some aquarists employ the so-called “golden ratio” (analogous to the rule of thirds in photography). To make a long story short, position your focal point slightly off-centre, such that the distances from the two side walls to the focal point are approximately in a ratio of 1:1.6.