The Aquatic Gazette

Aquascape | An Introduction

In Aquascape Series on May 26, 2011 at 00:01

Welcome to our Aquascape Series. In this first edition, we will introduce the concept of an aquascape, a short history of aquascaping, the different kinds of aquascapes and the future of aquascaping.

Aqua – water
Scape – a combining form extracted from landscape, denoting “an extensive view, scenery,” or “a picture or representation” of such a view, as specified by the initial element: cityscape; moonscape; seascape.

Loosely defined, an aquascape is the replicating of nature, or the creation of one, within your aquarium.

It is interesting to note that aquascapes have been around for as long as aquariums have. In the mid 1800s, balanced aquariums that featured both fauna and flora were common. Unlike today’s modern aquariums in which flora is introduced because of choice or preference, in the mid 1800s to the very early 1900s, flora was essential to the health of the aquarium. In an era in which the powered aquarium filter did not exist, large amounts of flora coupled with frequent water changes in a sparsely populated aquarium, ensured sufficient water quality for these early pioneers. Flora also played the vital role of oxygen creation in these early aquariums as a water-powered aquarium air pump only came into being around 1908.

1850s Aquarium | Vallisneria spiralis & coldwater fish

Aquascaping as we know it today, is more concerned with the creation of an aquatic biotope or aquatic garden for viewing pleasure, rather than the need for flora to sustain the lives of our fauna. Modern aquascaping started with the Dutch style, around the 1930s. The Dutch style is to emulate a garden inside an aquarium by planting different flora in neat rows, allowing the different aspects of the different flora to compliment the other, similar to landscape gardening. At that time, commercial aquarium equipment were just becoming available, aided in no small measure by the widespread growth in the use of electricity after World War One. The Dutch style took root in Europe and became popular, especially among aquascaping clubs dedicated to the style. It is however not as popular in other parts of the world because information on this style, especially pictorial information, was not as readily available then, as it is today. Also to undertake a Dutch aquascape, is a pretty serious affair with the flora clearly being the highlight of the aquarium and this prevented casual aquascapers from trying it out. It was not until the arrival of the Nature Aquarium style, did aquascapes became commonplace among all aquatists as the Nature Aquarium style afforded casual aquascapers a great measure of flexibility. Even if an aquascaper wants an aquascape without any flora, it’s possible with the Nature Aquarium style.


In the last decade of the 20th century to our present day, the Nature Aquarium style, developed by Takashi Amano has largely influenced every aspect of aquascaping. The major difference between the Dutch style and the Nature Aquarium style is the desire to replicate aquatic nature. The Nature Aquarium style popularise the use of wood, stones, plants with rhizome, low lying plants and aquatic mosses in aquascapes. With the desire to spread the use of this new style, Takashi Amano founded Aqua Design Amano, and through dedicated products and beautiful pictures of his aquascapes, aquascaping in the Nature Aquarium style grew tremendously. In the last 15 years or so, Aqua Design Amano products have led to the creation of numerous aquatic companies producing cheaper versions of their products such as glass lily pipes, CO2 drop checkers, pressured CO2 system and layout tools, giving aquascapers a large range in choice. Today’s aquascaping normals such as rimless glass tanks, gaseous CO2 delivery and higher levels of aquarium lighting are also a result of their influence.

Within the Nature Aquarium style, there are two sub-styles. The first being the driftwood style, and the second being the iwagumi style. Both these sub-styles will be covered at length in the next few editions.

Nature Aquarium | Driftwood 
Nature Aquarium | Iwagumi

Since the introduction of the Dutch and Nature Aquarium style, no other style has been able to emerge successfully as a third major alternative as these two styles seem to have fully covered every other variation in aquascaping. Some have tried to introduce new aquascaping styles such as an Urban style, but these styles have been firmly rejected by the community due to their strong detachments from the origin of all flora, nature. However, in very recent times, one style is starting to show great promise, being embraced in increasing numbers, and that is the Riparium style. The beauty of the Riparium style lies in growing flora both below and above the water level, as compared to all other aquascapes that concentrates on growing flora below water level. Devin Biggs, the creator of the Riparium style founded his own company, Riparium Supply and they have launched a variety of products dedicated to this style of aquascaping. We see a very similar pattern in history between Aqua Design Amano and Riparium Supply. Both styles of aquascapes were created by their founders and both are also the first to retail products for their style of aquascaping. We do hope that with such a concerted effort by Riparium Supply, the Riparium style will blossom into the third major alternative.


The popularity of aquascapes among aquatists, and the dominance of the Nature Aquarium style can be contributed to the internet. In the days of the Dutch style, sharing of ideas and pictures of aquascapes could only be done through local clubs and printed pictures. With such a tradition and history, the Dutch style is still largely kept to such a heritage while the internet and new media is swamped with the Nature Aquarium style. Further prove of this comes from the fact that the Nature Aquarium style is the heavily preferred style in newly developed countries (countries that have become developed in the last 20 years or so) because of their new wealth and access to the internet. The Dutch style is not practised in significant numbers among the aquascapers of such countries because of the continual tradition of its enthusiasts in keeping to the local clubs and communities. Thus, few examples of the Dutch style are found on the internet.

Popular aquascape centric forums such as The Planted Tank and Aquascaping World, have provided a rich sharing platform for the exchanging of information. Excellent guided set ups, equipment reviews, comprehensive guides and the engagement between aquascapers are just some of the information available today. The increasing use of an ASP-C sensor camera or a full frame sensor camera, has also led to an explosion of aquascapes in great pictorial detail. These aquascapes do much to inspire the community and newcomers to the hobby are always almost drawn in by these pictures. The organisation of annual aquascaping contests which happens world wide, has also bred professional aquascapers who constantly push the boundaries in aquascaping design. Some of these professionals have even established retail stores and provide a measure of inspiration and guidance to their local aquascaping communities.

International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest | Chow Wai Sun
International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest |  Li Da Wei
International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest | Yutaka Kanno

There are a lot more companies today, that spend research money innovating new products for the aquascaping community as compared to the past. These companies are interested in establishing a name for themselves, they are no longer satisfied in copying and then undercutting the bigger brands’ products. Good examples are CAL Aqua Labs’ inline diffuser range and Ecoxotic’s LED arm which bring new options to the table. As the aquascaping community grows, more aquatic companies will develop products specially for the market, and because of these new products, the community will have every reason to grow further. The next few years will be exciting times for all aquascapers.

To view all the editions of our aquascaping series, click on this link:


credit: Aqua Design Amano || Riparium Supply | | Shay Fertig | Yutaka Kanno | Li Da Wei | Chow Wai Sun


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