Aquascaping styles have become more blended over the years, with digital media allowing international artists to learn more quickly from each other. Some styles such as Dutch aquascapes are formalised by competition rules. Others are characterised by their popularity in certain regions / countries, and do not have precise definitions in terms of construct. Below are 5 of the most popular styles today.
#1 Nature Style
The term ’Nature Style’ is intimately linked to the work of Takashi Amano, the founder of ADA (Aquascape Design Amano) and its approach to planted tanks. Nature Style aquascapes are by definition ’naturalistic’: hardscape and plants are placed in a way that echo what can be found in nature. They are characterised by subtlety: no hardscape element or single plant species stand out outlandishly (in contrast with Dutch Style tanks), and generally involve the ‘bonsai’ sensibility of miniaturising an imagined natural landscape within the confines of the tank. Nature Style tanks differ from more complicated 'competition' diorama aquascapes by being far less obsessed with depth illusion/ perspective and technical composition. In that sense Nature Style takes a minimalistic, naturalistic approach to tank layout.
The Iwagumi style is rooted in the Japanese art of stone appreciation- Suiseki and zen rock gardening. It focuses on the arrangement of a few aesthetically significant pieces of rock. While deceptively simple, creating an Iwagumi is not necessarily easy, with utmost consideration required in the placement of the rocks and plants and the balance of the overall composition. In an ‘Oyaishi’ layout, a main rock serves as the focal point of the aquascape, with other rocks positioned to support it in several ways: providing contrast, counter-balance or as an echo to the main rock, with the overall goal of harmony between the different pieces. Often, an Iwagumi uses only 1 or 2 species of ground cover plants to accompany the rock. However, modern day aquascapers often prefer to use more plant species to blend the transition from open ground to rock pieces, giving a more naturalistic transition.
The Dutch Style of aquascaping has a long history that dates back to aquascaping competitions from the 1950s. In 1956 the Dutch Society for Aquarists (NBAT) established its first set of official guidelines. The traditional rules are pretty strict. They dictate for instance the use of not more than 1 plant species per 10cm/ 4” of tank length, that groups should be distinct and separated by a clear (small) space, that there must be no duplication of the same species in another group. Dutch Style aquascpes focus on showing the beauty of aquatic plants by highlighting contrasts in texture, shapes or colours. Typical characteristics include terracing of plants in “streets” that taper towards the rear help to put emphasis on the perspective of depth, and the use of red plants with distinctive leaves as focal points.
Brazilian style aquascaping was popularized in recent years by well known competition aquascapers in Brazil such as Andre Longarco and Luca galarraga who used colourful, dense stem plant bushes to line long rock ridges in their aquascapes. This gives these aquascapes vibrant colours and the look of a matured landscape. The rock ridges are often composed to draw's one eyes into the distance to give a sense of depth. The Brazilian style is distinguished by having vibrant bushes of stem plants, which differs greatly from many other competition aquascapes that are often planted sparsely with only mosses /plants that can grow on hardscape. This approach requires significantly more horticultural and maintenance skills.
Indonesian style aquascapes are characterised by rigorous wood hardscape (often heavily textured roots) that take the form of dense jungles. These aquascapes are constructed dry, with wood pieces shaped, layered and glued onto each other, in a process quite similar to miniature model building. Complex scapes fit together hundreds of smaller branches and rocks to produce structures such as trees, cliffs and over-hanging rock formations. A common feature is the creation of a dramatic sense of perspective, often in the form of a distant horizon line where smaller branches are used to create the illusion of details far away. This technique uses larger hardscape elements closer to the front and smaller elements at the rear. This is the very opposite of the ‘big at the back, small at the front’ approach used in most tanks, but achieves a tremendous sense of scale and perspective. Indonesian style aquascapes often look densely planted, but only a very small percentage of plants are grown in the substrate. Most plants are attached to the wood/ hardscape surfaces. Ironically, while immensely time-consuming to set up, these aquascapes are not hard to maintain in the long run, as the plants used are mostly mosses and slow growing, hardy, shade-tolerant species.