The Aquatic Gazette

Aquascape | Dutch Style

In Aquascape Series on May 28, 2011 at 00:01

In our introduction, we explored the Dutch style briefly and touched on the reasons it did not really take off outside the Netherlands and in its neighbouring countries. In this edition, we will go deeper into the details in the Dutch style and why it is considered the most difficult of all aquascaping styles.

NBAT Dutch Aquascape

In the Netherlands, the Dutch style is embraced with a local passion unseen in any other styles of aquascaping. To understand why true Dutch aquascaping is so difficult, we look at the official guidelines that have been established for decades.

The national society responsible for this is the National Bond Aqua-Terra, (NBAT) founded in 1930. It consists of about 120 clubs at the local level that are then divided into 15 districts. Annually, the NBAT organise a “Huiskeuring” in which all contestants compete for the much coveted title of Grand Champion. The competition is contested in three stages, with the winners going on to the next. The first is at the local club level, the second is at the district level and the third is at the national level. Judges from the NBAT will grade the aquascapes based on the following criteria.

1. Combination of animals
2. Health of animals
3. Development of animals
4. The amount of animals
5. Choosen plants
6. Health of plants
7. Development of plants
8. Water parameters
9. General impression
10. Chosen animals
11. Decorative materials (including backwalls, gravel, etc)
12. Composition
13. Technical equipment
14. Safety
15. Maintenance

Because of the extensive grading process, judging by pictures is not possible and all aquascapes are judged in person by a NBAT judge. Judging the “Huiskeuring” is an established and serious process, these judges are certified through an exam and three years of training.

Because of these strict established guidelines, aquascaping in the Dutch style is difficult compared to the other styles. It is common to see Dutch aquascapes outside of the Netherlands that consists of elements that will never be found or practised. Some of these include the use of wood and rocks (although wood covered with moss is becoming acceptable), the use of too many red coloured flora, the use of low foreground plants (introduced by the Nature Aquarium style) and the use of fauna that do not complement the aquascape.

NBAT 2009 Grand Champion | Raymond Duindam

The Dutch style can be best described as an aquatic garden. Flora is arranged in groups, with care taken to ensure that the different flora types compliment each other, each group of flora is not allowed to be repeated in other areas of the aquascape. Throughout the aquascape, the height of individual flora are trimmed to the exact desired heights, this is highly important as the Dutch aquascaper needs to create an effective depth of field which is critical to the success of the aquascape. Shorter foreground plants are usually angled to create that impression as well. But other than the depth of field, the real beauty of the Dutch style lies in the different colours, shapes and contrast between each group of flora, yet coming all together in harmony. And to achieve this harmony, the rule of two thirds is always used as a foundation of the aquascape.

Substrate is always to be of a light and plain colour, and as such, sand or gravel is often used. Because sand or gravel substrate is inert, most Dutch aquascapers will use substrate fertilisers to ensure their nutrient-hungry stem plants are well fed, liquid or dry fertilisers are also often used as additional supplements. One of the most interesting NBAT guidelines states that the use of non-rounded gravel with Corydoras will result in the deduction of points. It is heartening to know that in a planted competition, such care is still required of our fauna, as should always be the case.

A major emphasis of a Dutch aquascape is the health and arrangement of the flora. Less is sometimes more, and this holds true for Dutch aquascapers. In all the styles of aquascaping, we feel that aquascapers of the Dutch style often have the healthiest, most well-pruned flora. As they have no hardscape to hold their aquascape together, Dutch aquascapers have honed their skill on the care of flora to a remarkable level.

When comparing different Dutch aquascapes around the world, it is quite apparent that the NBAT aquascapes are executed with more sophistication and flair. Instead of depending on strong focal points such as numerous red plants, wood or rocks, they prefer to let the aquascape speak in its entirety. When viewing a well executed Dutch aquascape, it is like appreciating a balanced fine wine, with the last few glasses often being the best.

NBAT Dutch Aquascape
Non-NBAT Dutch Aquascape

The Dutch aquascape is housed in a tank enclosed on all sides, except from the front, by a wooden cabinet. The back and sides of the tank are also covered by a thin background, which enables the aquascaper to attach moss or other kinds of similar flora. Lighting used to be exclusively T8 but some now use T5HO (high ouput) as the introduction of new stem plants require higher lighting levels than what T8 is capable of. Pressurised CO2 went through the same path. Many had resistance towards the usage but as the new stem plants needed pressurised CO2, the practice was slowly accepted. All equipments are hidden in the wooden cabinet, in stark contrast to the Nature Aquarium style in which aquascaping equipment is part of the beauty of the total aquascape.

Although a masterfully done Dutch aquascape is something to behold, the future for this style of aquascaping is not looking that bright. The majority of the NBAT contestants are now over the age of 50. Concerns from established NBAT contestants has been that the younger generation lack the patience to hone their aquascaping skill to the established high standards, a process that make take years. At its peak, NBAT membership stood at 24,000, but by the year 2009, numbers have dropped to 4,000.

We hope that through the use of new media and the internet, Dutch aquascapers can reach out and show us that the Dutch style is one of great finesse, sophistication and skill, bonded by a community passionate about a style that is full of tradition and history. And with that, maybe the numbers of Dutch aquascapers will increase and we may well see organisations, similar to the NBAT, in our neighbourhoods.

Thank you for reading and we end this edition with a film of a Dutch aquascape.

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


credit: Marco Aukes | Robert Paul Hudson | alderliesten1967 | Raymond Duindam


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