This thread seems to be kind of wavering, which is bad in my mind as I wanted it to be a serious and long lasting journal. Well, I know my fellow plantedtank members like to see more step-by-step so others can learn, so I'll give a bit more sustenance to this thread. I'll stick to the scaping stuff, because I really don't know anything special about equipment/dosing/complicated stuff like that.
Here are some tools of the trade-- a combination of aquarium and art supplies (ironic as aquascaping is an aquarium art) including ADA stuff, an assortment of un-used paint brushes, and un-used painting knives. As a side note, knives are my favorite tools for landscape painting too.
The original rockscape is pretty basic-- Make 3 main rock groups into an irregular triangle, also using golden ratio approximately to make a balanced lay out. Support them with smaller rocks. The smaller rocks also act as the support, and hold back the aquasoil. I wanted an even higher slope (this isn't iwagumi) so I carefully added more soil using a small tupperware. After the rock-work is done, the slope doesn't deteriorate easily, so it's fine to add more. I also added extra to the cracks between rocks so I could plant HC so that the HC will creep onto the rocks.
Large brush is useful for making the soil even.
Close up of the rock-work after slope raise-- look for as many irregular triangles as you can find.
The twigs were brought from Hawai'i-- I collected them from a stream bed in Nu'uanu. The twigs there become hard, slick, and also algae free. I've used them in the past and really like working with them. I left them out to dry over the summer to get rid of any living things that there might be.
Putting twigs in by hand, then smoothing the area around the twig with a finer brush.
After the twigs, I put in the ADA bright sand, and used the ADA sand leveler, as well as a fine brush to smooth it out. The fine brush was necessary around rocks and under twigs acting as "roots."
Normally, before planting, Amano-sensei fills the tank to the top of the substrate and then plants the short plants. However, the slope of this tank is too huge for something like that. If I filled it until the whole mound was submerged, the tank would be almost half-full, and the foreground would be so far under water that planting HC would be impossible. So instead, I had to slowly soak the surface of the all the soil.
At this point the soil is moist so using the brushes would be messy. Painting knives are used to make adjustments. With the angled edges and shorter handles, the knives are better suited than the ADA sand scraper, and allow for better control. However, they aren't as thin as the brushes.
Planting HC with tweezers.
There are a few different techniques for planting short stem plants. My personal favorite, especially with HC, is to first loosten a small bunch, then insert it partway into the substrate, and finally use a spoon to half-bury it with moist aquasoil. Then I use the tweezers to tustle the aquasoil until the leaves of the plant re-emerge. This way, the plant isn't crowded like it would be if you shove in a bunch, has soil around its roots but under its leaves, and you don't have to plant . . . each . . . stem . . . which doesn't hold HC down so well anyway . . .
Planting e. tenellus as well
In this photo, my camera-man (a friend in the dorm who did a pretty good job considering he's a Nikon guy and we were using my Canon 10D) captured another technique that I use. If a plant is inserted, but feels like the tweezers are caught and would pull it back out, use another tool (here, the ADA sand leveler but even a wooden chopstick would do) to hold the plant in whild you slowly pull out the tweezers. This takes some practice as you might not even feel that the tweezers are caught, or even if you notice you might push or pull something too hard, but I promise that it'll become second nature as you set up more and more aquariums-- this and many other similar tricks your hands will figure out without much help from your brain. XD
Tank should be partially filled before planting stem plants/other tall plants so that they aren't crushed by their own weight. I used one of those synthetic wash cloths that are popular in Japan to make the water just trickle out of the bottle, not ruining the scape. I don't have a special hose like Amano-sensei . . .
This also keeps the foreground wet. Planting stems is simple, just use tweezers insert, don't over-crowd too much.
And there you have it, ta-da!!