Thanks, Green_valley, me too! The wait is over!
Here is the setup.
The stone with Power Sand and lava rock. The layout is a combination of what I thought were the best elements of Crane and Turtle and 5-Stone, with some modifications. The choice was the approval of my wife (the real commander around here) and my own preference of layout. I really liked the flow and triangular composition of Crane and Turtle, so I tried to emulate that with this one. I separated the layout into two groups of stones, and added some small accent stones to balance it out more. I'm still considering adding two more very small pieces.
I built up the back to about 8” to create a nice slope. The depth it has created is pretty incredible. I always thought that too steep would look funky, but now that I see it, I’m hooked. I thought it would look like a wall of substrate, but from my viewing throne on the couch, it looks fantastic, and I'm able to see all the way to the back of the tank. I could go steeper with a different layout. Perhaps in the future…
Trivia: I'm a theatre director, designer, practitioner, teacher, etc. So, historically stages were built with a rake or "slope". This was so that the audience could see the actors and scenery all the way to the back of the stage. Nowadays, they rake the audience instead - too many actors literally "breaking a leg" as they crossed DOWN stage, I suppose. It seems to me with this knowledge, I would have recognized the benefit of a steeply raked substrate sooner.
And the final hard scape with substrate in place.
I had more pics from the process, but other threads have done this better, so I’ll just describe it briefly.
Base: Lava rock for large stone stability, Power Sand Special M. Set lava rocks with some AS, and then placed the stone. When stones were set, I filled around it with Power Sand, focusing on the back of the slope.
Middle layer: ADA New Aquasoil Amazonia. Much redder than the old stuff when it’s dry. Pretty. I filled in the planting areas with AS, making sure to not completely bury the stones, as I still needed to cap this with Powder.
Top Layer: ADA Aquasoil Powder Type. For this, I focused mostly on installing it in the foreground areas where there will be large quantities of HC, but the whole tank got at least 1/4" of it. The stems in the back do not need the fine textured substrate so much, but HC really benefits from a finer substrate. I layered it about 1-½ inches deep in the front.
The next thing I did before I moistened the substrate for the evening was to sculpt the rolling hills the way I’d like them to be. I used my sand scraper for this. One could just as easily use a paint scraper or spackling knife or anything thin and flat. I think this step is important in a larger Iwagumi, especially with HC as the foreground, as the lines of the rolling hills greatly contribute to the composition. It also lends more detail to a large-scale scape that would otherwise be flat, less dynamic, and thus less interesting to look at. It also creates the illusion of sedimentary buildup when you taper the substrate up to a rock. Use the lines of the rock to help suggest the flow of the water around it by building up the sediment as ridges and valleys.
That said, you can’t really see it in the pics, haha… it will be more evident when it grows in.