What is aquascaping?

And now for something completely different…

We love exploring new ways of gardening, because it opens up so many more avenues of beautifying our surroundings. The other day I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw an aquarium that caught my eye – instead of an empty expanse of water and gravel frequented by a sad-looking goldfish, this was a spectacular underwater landscape complete with a miniaturised tree on a hill, a little road leading the eye into the scene. I was transfixed.

I read the comment and saw the #aquascape tag and clicked onto it. A whole new world of gardening opened up before my eyes. So over the next year we will be publishing bi-monthly articles on aquascaping: getting started, the plants, what you need – basically just like we do for gardening, but this is under water. Remember, even though you are working in a fish tank, you are still gardening, and just like when you’re gardening, you need to think about things like soil, fertiliser and light, hardscaping elements, as well as what you want the plants to do in your ‘garden’.

To find out more, I got hold of Zubair Ebrahim, assistant manager of Aqua Empire in Randpark Ridge, Johannesburg, who generously shared his knowledge with us. Zubair has been aquascaping for about 5 years now. “A few years ago I decided to get a fish tank again after having one many years ago. I did some searching online and came across planted aquariums and aquascaping – I was amazed at what fish keeping had progressed to and wanted to see if I could do it as well. I’ve been in the hobby ever since and am loving every moment of it.” In our chats, Zubair gives me all sorts of background on the art, repeatedly mentioning ‘ADA’ in terms of both inspiration and products. Aqua Design Amano (ADA) is a company started by Takashi Amano, regarded as the father of modern aquascaping, and it supplies premium quality products for the art or hobby. Takashi himself was also a landscape photographer, and it’s in this that we get a clue of what aquascaping is all about. In aquascaping the intention is to recreate a natural scene in a tank, with or without fish. There are wonderful examples online of landscape photographs that are recreated or used as inspiration in an aquascape.

Getting started with aquascaping

We asked Zubair how people should get started in aquascaping. “Start by getting good advice,” he says, which is exactly what we tell people getting into gardening or a new area of gardening. And as we tell people to visit their local nursery for advice, he recommends that people visit a specialist aquascaping shop when getting started. “Because I work at Aqua Empire, I suggest people come in to get the best advice, to see what is available and for people to get an idea of what they want to do.”

“To start, you need a tank of whatever size you’d like, then you need a good aqua soil, plants, filtration, an aquarium heater, fertilisers, good lighting and aquascaping tools. Tanks can be just about any size, from little 30cm tanks up to 1.8m tanks or beyond.” We’ve used the term aquascaping up until now, which you can all see is the water version of ‘landscaping’. It’s creating a scape, usually natural, in water, but it doesn’t have to be entirely underwater.

Zubair also speaks of ‘paludariums’, where there are elements, including plants, above water and below water, all in one tank. In subsequent issues of The Gardener we will delve deeper into planted tanks, looking at finding inspiration and turning it into reality; the different plants that are available; livestock – adding fish and/or shrimps into your aquascape; planting, maintaining and caring for your water garden; and whatever else we come across that we think you need to successfully get started in this new (to us) form of gardening.

Be inspired: To see what the experts can do, have a look at Aqua Design Amano (ADA) on YouTube or Instagram. Another wonderful channel to follow on YouTube is Green Aqua. Visit Aqua Empire virtually at www. aquaempire.net or physically at 2 Ysterhout Drive, Randparkridge, Johannesburg (it’s on Google maps), email them at aquaempiresa@gmail.com or call them on 084 625 9757.

The Gardener