Planted Tank Guru
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Contra Costa CA
The really basic description of 'whatever you call it' is a tank that has only a small amount of water, some land, and a background that can act as a water fall.
There will be a pump in the system somewhere that pumps the water up behind the things so that it can trickle down the background and across the land.
Some aquarium plants will grow emersed, or in the water fall area, many house plants (small ones) will grow in the land.
You can look up pictures of:
Vivarium- usually not much water, often houses reptiles of amphibians that do not need much water. Damp, humid, more like a planted wall and land, with just enough water/pond to make sure the pump does not run dry.
Atrium- a room in a house, may be open to the sky, or roofed with clear or milky panels so that the effect is of an outdoor/enclosed garden. I have designed them for hot tub rooms, sitting areas, and as a room off the entry for growing tropical plants.
Riparium- Probably what you can do best with the tanks you have- somewhere around 1/3 to 1/2 filled with water, an area of land (or not) and a wet background. I used a spraybar to evenly distribute water over a stacked rock background. I actually made my own, so the water does not really spray very far, just enough to direct it out over the top layer of rock.
I have also seen them in a brackish water set up, fish included Mudskippers. This was a roughly square tank (footprint) about 100 gallons.