As I work more and more with botanicals (Now, some decade and half on), I've learned a lot, screwed up more, and have realized just how much there still is to learn about using them in our aquariums.
One of the cool lessons I've learned is that, in many cases, the old adage about "less is more" is a valuable one. Over the years, my taste in botanical-style aquariums has evolved to where my latest 'scapes will typically have a selection of no more than 2-3, and sometimes only 1 botanical type- and they hit my aesthetic objectives perfectly!
It's not like this is some aquascaping revelation or anything. It's just a realization I came to by working with tanks in the small-to medium-size range. There are many instances where it makes sense to have more of less stuff than to have less of more stuff!
I've noticed that I'm still achieving the "vibe" I want out my aquariums, even with fewer selections in each scape. In my last two scapes, for example, I've used just larger quantities of two or three types of botanicals in each, in addition to the wood, and quite frankly, I have enjoyed the "richness" of these scapes immensely.
Now, this might seem a bit at odds with some natural habitats, and it could be. The igapo flooded forests that I admire so much usually have a lot of different materials accumulating upon the substrate, as they are simply an aggregation of what is on the forest floor during the "dry" period- a result of a variety of vegetation growing in the surrounding forest.
Now a typical stream might also have a lot of different materials accumulating on the substrate, as it pics up materials as it wanders through the jungle, yet many of these will "fall out" and re-distribute as a result of currents, etc. So, in our aquascaping, we might chose to represent just a segment of a particular habitat, and adjust the quantity and variety of botanical materials accordingly.
And then, there are those little pools, or "meanders" in water courses, in which you'll typically see aggregations of a large quantity of material, but not a lot of different types of material. Again, this is a function of current and wind distributing and re-distributing materials across the stream. And of course, where rocks or fallen trees occur, or where the waters recede, the accumulation is even more pronounced.
As you can see, there is a lot of natural "precedent" for varying the quantity and variety of botanicals which you utilize to create your aquascape. This gives you enormous flexibility and opportunities for creative expression!
Recently, we've collaborated with my good friend, the extremely talented aquascaper/photographer, Johnny Ciotti, to create some amazing aquaecapes, some of which will be available for purchase on our website! Being an artist, Johnny has a very good sense of design, scale, and composition.
His aquascapes manage to utilize every botanical to its fullest, because he tends to refrain from throwing "everything but the kitchen sink" into his botanical work. Each component seems to make sense and stand as a part of a "whole", without looking excessive in any way.
On the other hand, Johnny will be the first to tell you that, if the situation and aesthetic result desired calls for it, you should absolutely utilize as many different botanical materials as necessary to fulfill your objective. That, I think, is part of the real "magic" in aquascaping...
There is an extreme elegance that may be achieved by embracing a "less is more" mindset, and the great 'scapers, such as Jeff Senske from Aquarium Design Group, just seem to be able to instinctively apply this concept.
Another great 'scaper, Cory Hopkins, also manages to utilize larger quantities of fewer materials when the situation dictates, producing extraordinarily "rich" scapes with incredible depth and "fullness."
Regardless of if you're trying to create a more biopic presentation, or something that is entirely "artistic"- or even a fusion of the two, the idea of using appropriate amounts of restrain makes for some incredibly satisfying work!
Regardless of the way you work, there is no real "right" or "wrong" in this game! It's really about doing what pleases you, meets your goals, and is enjoyable. The big takeaway here is that you don't have to load up your aquariums with tons of materials in order to achieve a rich, fulfilling botanical-style aquarium aquascape.
Stay creative. Stay inspired. Stay curious. Stay excited...
And Stay Wet.