Nature's designs revisited...and lessons learned.

When it comes to botanical-style aquariums, the most valuable "asset" you can have is most definitely patience. The patience to understand that developing one of these systems is a process, and realizing that, like any aquarium, there are sort of "stages" or "iterations" that, if you take time to enjoy along the way, create a very satisfying and even engrossing aspect!

It's so important to look at things a bit differently than you would if you were a bit more pragmatic about the process...Just hell-bent on "getting it done" as quickly as possible...


One of my favorite stages of setting up an aquarium is when the "stage is set" for the tank to mature. You know: The essential "anchor" hardscape is done. The wood and botanicals that will be the largest pieces are set. The tank is emerging from that that "sterile-looking", stark appearance (You know, that look which leaves no doubt about this being "artificial"). 

It would be tempting, at this point- to just rush through and get more stuff I there; get the fishes in; plants, etc...

Nope, not me. Like most of you- I have vision.

And I have patience to let it unfold gradually, steadily.

I think you do, too. Isn't this a cool time in the life of your tank? It's about contemplation, reflection, patience.

It's setting the stage for the long term.

It's about looking at your hardscape, for example, and asking yourself if this aggregation is representative of the way a tangle of branches might slowly assemble itself, given a unidirectional flow of an inundation caused by an overflowing stream? 


Thinking about the beauty that nature creates with her utter "randomness"; or more precisely- through the action of water, wind, current...and the passage of time.

The pic below by David Sobry gives me some interesting ideas...and context to this idea.

I've found that some of the most compelling aquascapes that I've ever seen or done- botanical-style, hardscape, planted, reef, etc.- seem to have a special "something" about them. Of course, a large part of it is the overall "look"; however, one of the things which, in my opinion, seperates good tanks from great ones is the little details...stuff that completes the underwater scene.

Not necessarily "structural" details, like anchor hardscape pieces, mind you. No, we're talking about little, subtle details which make a system more natural-looking and "shade in the corners" where needed.

I think that's where our obsession with little twigs, which motivated us to create the "Twenty Twigs" product ( a big hit!) comes from.


Those little things which make a big difference over time.

In our botanical-style world, it's little things, like bits and pieces of broken up botanical materials, like bark, the occasional larger seed pod or what not, which make your scene look much more complete and "organic."

If you take your cues from natural underwater habitats, like I do, you'll notice that they are filled with all sorts of materials- not just the more obvious leaves and branches. If you think contextually, particularly when we're talking about habitats like igapo inundated forests and igarapes ("canoeways" in the Amazonian forests), take into account that they literally are flooded forest floors.

As such, they have seemingly random aggregations of botanical materials scattered about everywhere, punctuated- or, rather defined- by larger features like fallen logs, branches, a few random rocks.

The look of sort of awkwardly-placed hardscape pieces in an aquarium might certainly not be seen as being "artistic", in the way fabulous work by my friends like Johnny Ciotti are- but, in my opinion, it's nonetheless compelling- once the details arrive to soften and fill in the scene.

Oh, I said the "D" word again.


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.

(One of Mike Tucc's underwater igarape pics to the rescue..again!)

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.

I must confess, it's an aesthetic 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...Less these days, BTW!

And that is part of the attraction of this the of aquarium for me. 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 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...

If we give her the chance. 

If we allow ourselves to look at her work in context.

Always let nature add the details... She pretty much never messes them up!

Stay patient. Stay diligent. Stay excited. Stay creative. Stay open-minded...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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