Home Fish tanks aren’t what I remember them to be – a few lonely fish swimming around the fake rock tower, with a hint of algae in the background and maybe a snail for luck.
As a family we have been visiting fish and aquarium centres and aquariums since the arrival of our daughter Isabelle some four years ago, particularly enjoying the gorgeous ‘Paludarium’ (I’ve only just discovered that’s what they’re called), with their water and land based habitats combined as single environments to accurately illustrate amazing places such as Amazonian rainforests and mangrove swamps, beach rock pools; not to mention saltwater reef  ‘Biotope aquariums’ also homes to fish which try to be as close to the natural state and design of specific areas.
To say nothing of gawping in Kew Gardens with their amazing water and lands-capes exhibited in the greenhouses like Princess Diana’s, alongside sensitively planted and arranged aquascapes.
So calming, inspiring and meditative. Not difficult to see why it has become more popular to the hobbyist as individuals or families.

So we wondered what scale a project we should take on, if at all. 4 years of umming and arhhhing culminated in an excited Christmas project this winter with a democratic decision – a tidy tank to be dressed with planting substrates, gravel, wood, rocks and plants to echo the feel of a jungley mangrove/rock edge, not without inspiration from our endeavours in our own back garden. We are hopeful a shortlist of ‘good for beginners tropical fish who might live in a tank environment like ours’ will be happy to make their home. The tropical fish keeping books are on the table, and our great local aquatic shops are being sourced for advice and materials.

This is as far as we have presently got, from our starting point.
We chose a medium 75 x 35 x 40cm tank with light, thermometer, heater, and pump filter to start. Then in went two planting substrate layers with gravel ontop and we started a water cycle. Then a selection of green and red rocks; Fluorite, Red flame Jasper and Sunset Scenic, (all washed in hot water first). Two weeks later three characterful pieces of wood – making several hiding places and 'bridges' for the fish to enjoy later, (soaked in hot fresh hot water every day for a week first before going into the tank, then a carbon tester, water conditioner, carbon adding unit and plant food - and plants! We had a lot of fun dividing the plants with the intention of creating several focal points including by tying on some of the Anubias barteri var. Nana and Anubias nana bonzai – to the wood so to root onto them directly, with Anubias hastifolia, and Echinodorus bleheri and Cabomba aquatica for height, fernlike texture with Bolbitus heudelptii and Hygrophila pinnatifida, grassy texture with vallisneria spiralis and Eleocharis acicularis and red and brown flora with Alternanthera rosaefolia and Cryptocoryne wendtii Brown, finishing with a low carpet of Hemianthus callitricoides when the plantlets have spread.

Fish on our shortlist to be added a few at a time starting soon! Just trying to figure out which ones first! 
Our tank five days after planting
Aquascaping is a fairly new domestic art, being adopted by us indoors in the last 20 years with a new fervour and set of interpretations inspired largely by the Japanese Aquascapers seeking to achieve mountains, forests and sci-fi floating islands with or without fish, but always with plants, and not without a heavy dose of rocks and wood. They Japanese ones really are amazing – sometimes it is the scale, sometimes the juxtaposition or framing, and always the obsessive perfection that can literally take your breath away.

There was a ‘Dutch style’ that preceeded this newer interest from 1930’s which you can read more about on Wikipedia if you like - mainly freshwater, linear but dense and multi-textured planting also inspiring as a point of source. So if you are looking for a planting / environment / fish project indoors for some inspiration this winter, whilst it seems too wet to get stuck in outdoors, maybe some fun could be had planning and researching to make your own ‘Aquascape’. It’s a zen hobby! What theme will yours be?