Laying it all out...

Have you ever heard the expression, "The Devil is in the details?"

I guess it makes sense. It sort of indicates (IMHO) that the superficial aspects- the readily apparent aspects- of something are the easy part to understand or execute. The more detailed parts- well, that's where the challenges lay, right?



Nature is full of all sorts of "details" - and the scenes that we obsess over are not as superficially simple as they might seem at first glance. There's a lot going on in habitats like streams, ponds- and the flooded forests we obsess over. A lot of material accumulating there.

A lot to consider.

I believe that an aquarium that attempts to replicate a sort of chaotic scene like the ones we're talking about starts with what looks like really artificial placement of wood, anchored by numerous details which soften, define, and fill in the scape. A sort of analog to the theater/motion picture concept  of "mise en scene", where pieces literally set the stage and help tell a story by providing context.

Yes, unlike a scape which depends upon growth of plants to fill it in and "evolve" it, the botanical-style blackwater/brackish aquarium is largely hardscape materials, which requires the adept placement of said materials to help fill in the scene. And of course, part of the "evolution" is the softening, redistribution, and break down of botanical materials over time...just like what happens in Nature.

I suppose this little rant could be viewed as a "defense" our "style", which on occasion has been criticized as "sloppy", "lazy", "undisciplined", etc...😆

Perhaps it is to some. However, I think it serves to re-examine what I feel is one of the foundational philosophies of the botanical-style aquarium "aesthetic." It's a philosophy grounded by understanding what happens in Nature when "stuff" falls into the water.

I must confess, it's an aesthetic in both Nature and the aquarium which certainly doesn't appeal to everyone. In fact, many in the "mainstream aquascaping world" tended to levy all sorts of "constructive criticisms" and "Yeah, but..." comments about our practices and ideas for a while...Much, much less these days, BTW!

Yet, accepting the appearance of biofilms, detritus, decomposition, silt, etc. runs contrary to what we have been indoctrinated to appreciate for generations in the aquarium world.

And that is part of the attraction of this the of aquarium for me. A certain degree of acceptance. Knowing our role as the human caretakers of our closed aquatic environment.

It's easier than you might have expected, and more difficult than you could anticipate.

Rather than conform thoroughly to some sort of "rules" based on design, layout, and technique, this type of aquarium tends to ask for very basic initial design, and lets Mother Nature handle a lot of the emerging details over time.

This is a slightly different approach to aquascaping than we usually think about. It requires some vision. It requires belief in one's ideas. It requires understanding and faith- as we've discussed yesterday...And it requires patience above all else.

And the passage of time.

Nature has been working with terrestrial materials in aquatic habitats for eons.

And Nature works with just about everything you throw at her.

She'll take that seemingly "unsexy" piece of wood or rock or bunch of dried leaves, and, given the passage of time, the action of gravity and water movement, and the work of bacteria, fungi, and algae- will mold, shape, evolve them into unique and compelling pieces, as amazing as anything we could ever hope to do...

This is true in both the wild habitats and the aquarium, of course.

The same processes and function which govern what happens to these materials in the wild occur in our aquariums. And, if we reject our initial instinct to "edit" what Nature does, the aquarium takes on a look and vibrancy that only She can create.

We also have to re-adjust our aesthetic preferences to accept the appearance of these processes. We need to understand why biofilms form, why terrestrial materials decompose underwater, and how this impacts-and benefits- the environment in our aquariums.

There is more to this than just crafting a look and layout.

You don't have to start with a real high concept, in terms of laying out your botanicals and leaves. A lot of hobbyists ask me about the best way to place botanicals in their tanks, and the simple truth is that there IS no "best way."  You can place seed pods and leaves and such wherever you want to in the tank, but processes like water movement, decomposition, and the activities of our fishes will sort of "re-distribute" these materials.

Again exactly what happens in Nature. In an ironic twist on the traditional way of 'scaping and running aquariums, WE as hobbyists actually have to accept a certain amount of "editing" by Nature!

Sure, again- you can place a "hardscape" of wood and/or rocks to set the "framework" for your botanical assemblage. It's just that you need to remember that the botanicals and leaves themselves must be viewed as more or less "ephemeral" in nature, and will change over time,"evolving" your 'scape and providing a different aesthetic than what you might have had in mind when you crafted the initial layout.

This is a significant mental shift that the botanical-style aquarium asks of all who create one. You can fight this as long as you want, polishing, editing, and re-arranging things to keep some design. Absolutely.

Its can be gorgeous, in a very artistic way.

However, to really appreciate this type of aquarium, it's optimal to "set the scene" for Nature to do most of the "heavy lifting" and craft the scape according to eons-old processes which we are only now beginning to understand in the context of aquarium-keeping.

Nature can do the most amazing things...

If we give her the chance. 

So, lay things out with your own unique vision...and let Nature add the details... She pretty much never messes them up!

Stay observant. Stay patient. Stay diligent. Stay excited. Stay creative. Stay awed...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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