First Place Aquatic Garden Large and Best of Show: "Sleepy Hollow" James Hoftiezer, Boiling Springs, South Carolina USA - Details

For getting through the bleak months of winter, an indoor planted aquarium might be just the thing!

Enchanted Realms

by John Glaeser, Madison, Wisconsin USA
Click images to enlarge

A familiar joy to ponders --
John cleaning his pond.

As things begin to grow and lilies bloom, the pond out back is a joy. But fall approached and daylight hours became fewer in the northern hemisphere. Winter is here, and for a while we'll have to wait until spring to begin nurturing our special paradise again.

For temperate zone "Ponders" who desire year-round aqua gardening experiences, an indoor planted aquarium might be just the thing. How pleasant it is having an aqua garden tucked into the living room! A miniature dynamic aquatic ecosystem can help us keep in touch with the soothing powers of growing plants and aqua creature antics. Small schooling fish dance through clusters of delicate plants touched by gentle water currents. Though the actual size of the tank is relatively small, to the mind’s eye, the total design appears to be a vast scenic vista. This is a fascinating illusion--aquascaping charm.

The sensitivities of pond artists and planted aquaria designers are similar in some respects, yet different in other ways. We use many of the same plants, brand products, and design concepts. We can go low-tech, low maintenance; or high-tech with lots of gadgets and gizmos. We learn a little botony, a little chemistry, and a little animal husbandry.

This 100-gallon tank is low-tech:

2004 First Place Aquatic Garden Large: "Easy Does It" Gordon Hartmann, Monona, Wisconsin USA - Details
Photo by John Glaeser
Quote from the aquascaper: "Well-established tank that requires very little maintenance. Set up three years ago. CO2 added via DIY soda pop bottle with an airstone. KNO3 added as needed. Weekly water changes using tap water provides necessary traces. Recent water parameters are KH=15, gH=22, NO3=12, P=.8, Fe=.5. I was trying to create a nice display for a long tank with low light/power levels using corresponding plant species. This results in a stable and viable aquatic garden that beginners can accomplish using minimal resources and upkeep."

This tank is only 8 gallons, but it is a very high-light, fairly high-tech aquarium:

2006 First Place Aquatic Garden Small and Best of Show:
"Summer Dance" Law Kai Chun, Hong Kong - Details

This aquarium by Sang Peiris of Dallas, Texas USA, is 150 gallons, and is almost completely automated. If the pH changes, the tank's computer sends an e-mail to Sang's PDA! He can then log on to his website and adjust the tank even if he is in another country. 

Planted Aquariums - More Than Just a Fish Tank!

Still not convinced? For inspiration, check out the AGA International Aquascaping Contest. These picture galleries illustrate exhilarating creative diversity. Most designs has a synoptic appendix identifying plant and fish species, plus technical details such as lighting, substrate, water quality, filtration and the like. DVDs also available. The contest is for both beginners and experienced aquarists: in 2003, someone won Best of Show with his first planted aquarium!

Advancements in the Hobby

First Place Aquatic Garden Large and Best of Show: "Sleepy Hollow" James Hoftiezer, Boiling Springs,
South Carolina USA - Details

In 1977, authors Karel Rataj and Thomas Horeman in their book, "Aquarium Plants" presented an early serious discussion supporting the growing interest in aquarium plants. The 1985 English version of the Horst and Kipper title "The Optimum Aquarium" excited the hobby with lush color photos and an emphasis on a technological approach. In the 1990s, Takashi Amano's large formatted "Nature Aquarium World" collection of books, enhanced with stunning photographs of exquisite designs, has undeniably been a major influence worldwide. In addition, many excellent titles by talented authors are becoming increasingly available.

Other advancements in the hobby include more lighting options, better filtration, plant-specific substrates, and wider availability of aquatic plant fertilizers.

Aquarium lighting is moving from the old standard T-12 fluorescent tubes to much brighter power compacts, to T-8, T-5, and even diodes. For the longest time undergravel filters were standard fish tank equipment. Now there are all sorts of filtration strategies--even no filter at all, depending on the plants to "filter" waste products out of the water. Many different companies offer nutrient-enriched natural substrates for the planted aquarium, as well as aquarium plant fertilizers.

These days in the hobby, with such a plethora of information spinning from the web, beautifully illustrated books appearing on the shelf and product diversity galore so accessible, it can become overwhelming for those wanting to get started. With all these intertwining changes in process, it is reassuring to have the AGA as a guide. 

2004 First Place Aquatic Garden Extra Large and
Best of Show: "Resting Place"
by Oliver Knott, Germany - Details

This 30-gallon aquarium never won anything,
but it pleases Cheryl Rogers, Membership
Chair of the AGA, because she gets to play with it year 'round!

Get Started!

Interested in year-round aqua gardening? The Aquatic Gardeners Association is the place to get started. Articles, links, resources. Don't forget to join!

AGA Forum: Gets to the basics about plant species, fertilizers, water chemistry and algae issues. Ask questions ... get answers. Membership is not required to participate in the forum.   AGA Forum

"The Aquatic Gardener": This gorgeously-illustrated quarterly print journal, called "TAG," is free to all AGA members. It is replete with excellent articles on the art and science of freshwater planted aquariums. 
As an example, the October - December 2006 issue has an article by Dr. Troels Andersen of Tropica Aquarium Plants in Denmark. Here's a peek. "Rooted aquatic plants take up nutrients both via roots and leaves, but often the highest proportion of nutrients is taken up by the roots from the substrate. Aquatic plants leak oxygen from their roots to the substrate. This oxygen helps to bind nutrients chemically to the substrate and thereby prevent nutrients from being released to the water where algae could use it."  TAG
walstad book

AGA Bookstore: Here you'll find a treasure indeed! Diana Walstad's "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium" contains scientific information on aquarium ecology and practical insights on working with aquarium plants. You can also order back issues of TAG.

AGA Convention: DVDs of AGA convention proceedings from 2000 - 2006 are available to AGA members. What an opportunity to witness illustrated presentations by experts in the field! After seeing these, one might consider attending the next event.  

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