The recent torrential rains and flooding we've had here in California over the last few weeks has put a lot of focus on the local creeks, rivers, beaches, and flood control channels, particularly here in Los Angeles.
Every night, the local news show sensational footage of normally almost dry or placid streams now overflowing with water and debris...
And of course, apart from the human concerns, my thoughts immediately turn to...how the branches, botanicals, and other natural materials aggregate in these now swollen bodies of water! Just like in the jungles of South America or Africa!
(OMG I'm a geek...!)
Nature at work.
And nature is just as active in our aquariums (perhaps less damaging, but doing her thing nonetheless- and we should understand it.)
If I were forced (and yeah, "forced" is the right word, because there are no defining rules here...no way) to offer some defining characteristics of the "New Botanical Style" aquarium, I'd say that a certain "randomness", actually, is it.
I mean, we're all about replicating what happens in nature, NOT about perfectly proportioned placements and such. Now, I must admit, some of the world-class aquascapers that have worked with our botanicals have applied these concepts to these types of aquariums and have produced stunning results. However, I think the "raw" botanical aquarium "essence" is about a certain degree of randomness. And that's what made me really embrace what our friend Mike Bognich did with his latest iteration of his botanical tank...embracing a sort of "thoughtful randomness", if you will- and it all works so well.
And that's absolutely what occurs in nature. Random distribution of botanicals and branches, etc. Now, to a certain extent, currents and spatial factors (i.e., how wide and deep a given stream is) affects the distribution, but for the most part, it's quite random. And that is the fascination and beauty of nature...I think- THINK- that we as aquascapers have developed some amazing "rules" to proportion out 'scapes in an artistic manner, but it's my opinion that it's also okay to be a bit less "technical" and more "impulsive." I have to admit that I often squirm when I see aquascaping videos and the 'scaper goes on and on about "...You need to have a large element here to offset the piece of wood here.." I'm like, "Why?" It just seems so "restrictive."
And of course, the answer is likely, "Because it looks better."
And of course, I cringe again, because I'm not sure what "better" means- although the serious aquascapers ARE often correct. That being said, I still think that a certain degree of randomness; even what some would label as "haphazardness"- is good; and more important- awareness of how things really work in nature- is even more valuable. Couple good taste with these two key factors and you're in great shape.
Anyways, back to nature.
I think it's important to look at the way fishes behave around the litter bed or "botanical debris field" that you create. The recent blog by Mike Tuccinardi about how fishes interact with their physical surroundings in a tank is worth reading again. It's very important to take this into consideration, too. Even more so, IMHO, than the overall aesthetic. I can't tell you how many tanks I did thinking that the 'scape could have been better, but the fishes were incredibly happy with them.
Of late, we've seen more and more hobbyists playing with palm fronds, thanks in a large part to the amazing aquariums of Tai Strietman and Rene Claus, among others-who have masterfully incorporated them into their 'scapes. And they are amazing natural materials to 'scape with.
Among many other botanicals, palm fronds strike me as perhaps the most "decadent" thing we use to scape with, because they are the ultimate expression of "...shit falling into the water like it does in nature."
Yeah. Well said, huh?
And mixing larger and more durable botanicals (Like "Savu Pods", "Jungle Pods", etc.) in with the smaller stuff creates a sort of random sorting of its own as things break down, are moved by current, or partially buried by digging fishes (like my Apistogramma abacaxis, which has discovered that digging pits in the sand and tossing them on the leaves is really fun!)...And mixing little, near-permanent botanical gems like "Lampada Pods" and "Heart Pods" creates a richer, more durable "base" upon which to "build."
Hardly technical, but pretty cool. And fun to see, IMHO.
And the beauty of the leaf litter bed in your aquarium is not just it's functionality as a foraging and breeding ground for lots of fishes and aquatic life in our tanks- it's about the amazing "transient" nature of it- and the randomness of it all. Leaves slowly start to decompose from the moment we add them to our tanks, "editing" whatever plan we had right from the start. Nature follows its own set of rules!
And when we add/remove/supplement more leaves, and allow others to fully break down in our tanks, we are totally mimicking the natural processes which occur in streams and rivers around the world. And the biofilms and algal growths which appear from time to time on our botanicals-just as in the wild habitats we mimic- provide not only a degree of "biological functionality" for our systems, but an evolving aesthetic as well. Embrace these things- don't fear them.
Understand that the real "designer" of our botanical-style aquaecapes is Mother Nature herself. We just set the stage.
So set the stage, and enjoy the random, compelling, and ever-evolving work of art that is the blackwater/botanical-style aquarium. Started by you. Evolved with the steady hand of nature.
Stay enthralled. Stay awestruck. Stay calm.
And Stay Wet.