Improve Aquascape - The Planted Tank Forum
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  • 2 Post By Olskule
  • 2 Post By Riceman
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post #1 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-13-2018, 01:30 AM Thread Starter
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Improve Aquascape

What can I do to improve this? (Photo is from right after planting a couple days ago.) Is the problem the java ferns on the driftwood? Is the problem the messiness of the background and sides? Do I need to get some different plants to make this better? Remove some plants? I really want it to look good. If you are reading this, please I'd really appreciate any opinions. Thanks so much!
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post #2 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-13-2018, 04:50 AM
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First of all, those are some very good looking pieces of wood to start with. Good job on choosing them and placing them as you have. You have created an angle which invites the eye into your aquascape, and they make a good foundation to build upon, so leave them as they are. The very first thing that stands out to me is the bunch of stem plants in front of the right-hand piece of wood, nearly center. This is a tall, thin form that needs to be placed toward the rear of the aquarium; where it is left to right is ok, at least for starting, just move it back behind the wood. The next thing that sticks out is that all of the plants are arranged in a fairly straight horizontal line. This acts your horizon, and flat horizons are boring. That's why good landscape photos or paintings never have a flat, unbroken horizon. Think of the underlining "ribbon" beneath the Coca-Cola brand name; that is called the "dynamic wave", and they have it copyrighted because it is both distinctive and appealing. You can use the same line (or similar) in your aquascape design and it will provide a dynamic sense.

Also, all of those stem plants seem to be placed mid-ground, just behind the wood pieces. Since they are so tall, they should be placed toward the very back. Also, trim some of them to different heights, to avoid that boring straight line effect. For just starting out, it's probably best to keep your design simple, so a symmetrical design is good to start with, and that is what you seem to have begun with your foundational wood placement, so make the horizontal top line in back dip down toward the middle and high in the back corners. Generally, you want to place tall forms toward the back of the aquarium and graduate in height as you come forward, with shorter plants in front. One exception to this is that tall or medium-height plants work well in the front corners, framing the scene from the sides.

Now think of yourself standing center stage in a classic theatre, facing the audience. All the seats are arranged in a horseshoe shape around you, and as they go further back, they get higher, with the highest ones in the very back. Also, there are those expensive private box seats high and close to the stage, right? Think of your aquascape as the theatre seats, and your view from the front of the aquarium is like you looking at the audience. Of course, theatre seats are arranged like that so that everyone in the audience can see what's happening on the stage, but it also works in reverse: from center stage, you can see the entire audience (IF the house lights are on, of course). If you follow this simple plan, you will be able to enjoy easily seeing all of your aquascape's features.

Got that? Ok, here's another analogy to help you design your aquascape. Think of viewing a nice, relaxing garden from a bird's eye view. (No, not a vegetable garden! That's work to me, and not relaxing at all!) You want your garden to be a place where you or your guests can wander and relax without having to think about where to go next, and where there is something interesting every now and then along the path, so that you are unconsciously drifting from one spot to the next, never running into a dead that causes you to realize you've been so relaxed that you don't remember getting there. No, you don't want dead ends because you want to be continuously wandering and relaxing. Alright, you get the idea, right? Now apply that principle to the path your eye follows as you look at your aquascape. You already have the two pieces of wood arranged so that they draw your eye from the front of the aquarium toward the middle and back, right? See how that works? Now, if you have already placed that tall stem plant bunch in the back, then that's probably where your eye is led, so now all you need to do is create your visual pathways from there. A good design will invite your eye from one point to another, letting it rest momentarily on certain focal points of interest along the way.

What I've gone over here is just basic design and general guidelines. Once you've grasped these concepts and practices well, then you'll be ready to move on to more complicated designs, ones that are not necessarily symmetrical, yet create balance without having similar objects on each side.

One more thing: you mentioned the Java fern; well they are usually focal points, since they have such large and interesting leaves, and as such can be placed in the mid-ground or to the side, in front (the corners), despite the fact that they may be as tall as many of the background plants. This type of feature usually doesn't block much of the view of what is behind it, so make use of it sparingly until the plant becomes too large and dominant.

I hope this helps you get started with aquascaping your aquarium to your satisfaction, and provides a foundation for you to build your own skills upon. Good luck, and enjoy the process!

Olskule

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post #3 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-13-2018, 02:20 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you so much for explaining all of that, you should teach a class on aquascaping! I'm going to read through it a few more times so that it all sinks in and then will try applying the concepts to my design. Really appreciate your help.

I have an idea, I'm wondering if it could work to attach some of the pennywort to the back wall. Maybe with suction cups?

I think I might have made a mess of the java fern as far as where I attached it to the wood. Maybe it'll look better once it grows, but I guess that'll take forever since everyone says how slow growing it is.
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post #4 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-14-2018, 12:46 AM
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Maybe group up the same specie plants instead of spreading them out.
Mainly looking at the hydracotyle (the round leaf one)
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post #5 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-14-2018, 12:51 AM Thread Starter
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Maybe group up the same specie plants instead of spreading them out.
Mainly looking at the hydracotyle (the round leaf one)
I was just looking at pictures of hydrocotlyle planted in bunches / groups and it looks great. Thanks for the idea!
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post #6 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-14-2018, 01:17 AM
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I think I would wait now and let things grow in a bit. You'll find that completely changes the look of it. As the stem plants grow you can trim them and replants the cuttings next to the original to thicken up the clump.
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post #7 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-14-2018, 03:25 AM
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The suggestions above are good ones, follow them and show us a new photo of the whole readjusted aquascape!

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Originally Posted by Aquatic Neurotic View Post
I have an idea, I'm wondering if it could work to attach some of the pennywort to the back wall. Maybe with suction cups?
Keep in mind the way a plant naturally grows and work WITH it. The pennywort will always change the angle of its leaves to catch the most light, so that puts the leaves in a horizontal position once they've settled in. If you attached it to the back wall, you will be seeing the thin edges of the leaves at eye level, at least until it fills in (alot) and starts crowding and competing with itself for light. Only then will you get the ivy wall look I think you have in mind, but it generally grows a bit spindly on a single strand; it's only with several stems running alongside each other that you get a fuller look.

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post #8 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-14-2018, 09:41 PM Thread Starter
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Does this look better or worse?
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post #9 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-14-2018, 09:58 PM
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Does this look better or worse?
Don't worry about other people's opinions. If you like it, it's good (:

- Adam
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post #10 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-14-2018, 10:57 PM
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It looks better mostly because the rotala is shorter and doesn't look so out of place in front of the wood, but stems grow tall fast so that won't last. Usually you don't want the bottom of stems showing, you either want some hardscape or a shorter plant in front of it.

I would put some rocks or more wood at the base of the rotala to conceal the bottoms. This will give the tank a better mid-ground and more depth. I would then take the plant (forget the name) you have on the far left/right cut it up and place it around the driftwood randomly.

I would lose the java fern. It just looks so large and thin or maybe group them all together. That's just the way I see it
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post #11 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-15-2018, 12:02 AM Thread Starter
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I am not happy with how the java fern looks. I'm clinging to the idea of keeping it only because of the care and time I took in gluing it to the wood. But objectively I do see that it's not working in this tank. This was my first time even seeing java fern in person, so I wasn't very familiar with how to use it other than it needed to be attached to wood. Darn I think I really messed up.

I need help figuring out best solution for the rotala. I really wanted to use it as a third line focal point because of its color. This tank is very narrow - only 8 inches front to back. So I didn't necessarily intend to place rotala in front of the wood, it's just that to have any amount of it and still leave a sand cove in front some ended up slightly in front of the wood (but most of it is actually behind). I was thinking it might work to have the rotala get tall in back and keep it shorter in front by cutting and planting tops. Would that work to conceal the bottoms of the taller rotala?

I'm very appreciative of all input!
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post #12 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-18-2018, 12:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Aquatic Neurotic View Post
I am not happy with how the java fern looks. I'm clinging to the idea of keeping it only because of the care and time I took in gluing it to the wood. But objectively I do see that it's not working in this tank. This was my first time even seeing java fern in person, so I wasn't very familiar with how to use it other than it needed to be attached to wood. Darn I think I really messed up.

I need help figuring out best solution for the rotala. I really wanted to use it as a third line focal point because of its color. This tank is very narrow - only 8 inches front to back. So I didn't necessarily intend to place rotala in front of the wood, it's just that to have any amount of it and still leave a sand cove in front some ended up slightly in front of the wood (but most of it is actually behind). I was thinking it might work to have the rotala get tall in back and keep it shorter in front by cutting and planting tops. Would that work to conceal the bottoms of the taller rotala?

I'm very appreciative of all input!
You're definitely on the right track. As Houseofcards mentioned, the rotala looks better because it is shorter, but that won't last long; that's why I suggested placing it behind the wood. If you leave it there, you will be trimming it constantly. As for the tank only being 8" deep (front to back), it is a real challenge to create a sense of depth in such a thin tank, but you are doing well with it. The Java fern will be another challenge in such a small aquarium because it has such a bold and complex appearance, but the one on the right blends well, and once the plants grow in a bit and you can place some taller stems behind it, the Java fern on the left won't appear so awkward. You have made a great improvement over your original design, though, and I think you're getting the hang of it. Just keep in mind the design principles I mentioned before and you will do fine. Also, remember that those are only basic principles to understand and become comfortable with before you forge ahead with more challenging aquascapes. And remember that few aquascapes look their best when first laid out, and that, unless you have the money to invest in enough plants to completely fill the tank from the first (which most of us don't), it's a work in progress, and as your plants grow, your aquascape matures toward what you really have in mind. The guys creating all those beautiful aquascapes on commercial sites are almost always working with a big budget that can include carpets and plant features that have been prepared weeks or even months in advance of the build you see, so don't think your fresh aquascape should compare to those right off the bat, because it is your hobby, but it's their profession, and the budgets don't compare. And aside from that, those big budget aquascapes only look like that when they are either fresh or they are presented at just the right point in their growth process. (Also, many of them are not meant to last, and are torn down after only a few weeks.) The main thing is to enjoy both the process and the results, and I think you have good reason to be pleased with your aquascaping progress.

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post #13 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-18-2018, 07:12 AM
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+1 Olskule's comment on pro scapes.

If you look at the scape breakdown in an average aquascape magazine, many of them run well into the hundreds of dollars, even without considering the cost of the (usually giant) tank, abundant pricey hardscape materials, and high-end equipment. They use probably triple or more the volume of stem and ground cover plants we might start with, and much larger specimens of focal plants than the average LFS has on offer.

The average hobbiest simply cannot afford to plant a near-instant perfect aquascape. We either must use more affordable plants, or less of them and propagate within our own aquariums so they can spread or fill in, or build little by little as we can aquire things, or some combination thereof. We do things like taking extra cuttings into local shops for credit to buy new stuff, or swapping with other hobbiests, or buying tiny clone cups of plants and carefully coaxing them along into a normal size. Some of us even have tanks dedicated just to growing stuff out or propagating plants we need more of so we have enough to work with.

That doesn't mean those wonderful tanks we see shouldn't inspire us, nor should we be discouraged by the need for patience. Just don't be too hard on yourself in the process of learning (or waiting for grow-out); it's a hobby, and it should be fun.

And your tank looks good for a fresh planting. Let it grow a bit. As things fill in, I think you will find it looks much closer to what you were hoping for.
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post #14 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-18-2018, 03:49 PM Thread Starter
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I really appreciate it. I've been so discouraged and tempted to tear it down. This tank is in a very prominent spot in my living room so I want it to look awesome. I've definitely accepted I will never ever be able to have a tank like some of the amazing journals here or others I see online. I still want mine to be beautiful in a more simple way though. I moved a bit of the pennywort. I guess for now I will leave it alone and see what happens, maybe a better design will come to me.
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post #15 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-18-2018, 11:32 PM
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That's a part of it, just sitting there, relaxing, looking at it and contemplating the design, then (perhaps) making a small change here, or remove something there, or just "sit on it" for a time while you decide. It is much like bonsai, in that it is never actually "finished", but an ever-growing, ever evolving design that is an artificially manipulated homage to nature without being totally natural in design or function. In fact, the two practices have many things in common, which is possibly why some of the leading aquascaping professionals and schools of design come from Asia. The idea is to "lose yourself" for awhile, either in thinking about your design, how best to achieve a desired look or just quietly enjoying your creation. It's a hobby, and relaxing is what hobbies are for, not to stress you out even more, so enjoy learning as you go and don't expect perfection your first time; that's unrealistic and counter-productive. Perfection is a goal, and very rarely an achievement.

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