Everything that slows us down and forces patience,
everything that sets us back
into the slow circles of nature, is a help.
Gardening is an instrument of grace.
In our frenetic, warp-speed lives, moments of rare joy are sometimes found unexpectedly in small, utterly calm, primitive worlds of lush foliage and ancient stone and gnarled driftwood. There is, we have discovered, a magic in planted aquariums and their offer of a way to slow down, escape modern life, and appreciate a form of gardening that is evolving into an exciting and supremely graceful art form.
This portfolio of winners and top entries in the Aquatic Gardeners Association International Aquascaping Contest for 2015 showcases the state of the art of freshwater aquascaping today. The aquascapes that rose to the top in the judging process were chosen from nearly 500 entries from more than 40 countries.
There are nine categories in the AGA contest—six Aquatic Garden Aquascape categories divided by tank volume and three specialty categories: Biotope Aquascape, Paludarium, and Dutch Aquascape. This is somewhat different from Aqua Design Amano’s ADA International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest, in which all the tanks are judged against each other and ranked in order.
“Deep Nature:” Best of Show
For 2015, first place in the Aquatic Garden 200–320L and Best of Show awards went to Paulo Vitor Pacheco of São Paulo, Brazil, for his work “Deep Nature.” Bailin Shaw, chair of the AGA International Aquascaping Contest, said of this work, “Awesome layout with a superb hardscape layout and excellent plant selection to soften the edges in the aquascape. The layout has excellent depth and the different types of plants are blended well and look natural in their locations. Well done!”
The biggest category, which had 82 entries, was Aquatic Garden 28–60L (about 7–16 gallons), which demonstrates a general trend toward smaller aquascape layouts. It is very challenging to create a sense of depth and detail in an aquarium with such a small footprint.
As the AGA had hoped, the number and quality of entries in the Dutch Aquascape category, now in its second year, increased. Judge Marco Aukes of the Netherlands said, “It is the second year in which the AGA had a separate category for the Dutch style, but actually this is the first year we have had real Dutch tanks in the competition. Amongst those entries were several fine examples that can show people around the globe that the Dutch style is not at all old-fashioned. It is alive and kicking.”
Judges & Sponsors
Judging this year were Karen Randall (USA), Luca Galarraga (Brazil), Long Tran Hoang (Vietnam), Juan Puchades Rufino (Spain), and Marco Aukes (Netherlands). Members of the Biotope Committee included Karen Randall, Phil Edwards, and Scott Dowd, senior freshwater aquarist at the New England Aquarium.
Said Shaw, “Our contest would not be the success it is without our contest sponsors. Some outstanding companies supported this year’s contest, including Seachem, Aqvainnova, Build My LED, Aqua Forest Aquarium, Florida Aquatic Nurseries, AMAZONAS Magazine, The Wet Spot Tropical Fish, American Marine Inc., and Finnex.
For more information on the aquascapes, judges’ comments, and entries from previous years, visit:
AGA AMAZONAS GALLERY
All images Copyright © the AGA 2015 entrants. Click image for larger view.
AQUATIC GARDEN, smaller than 28L (7 US gallons) category
Tank size: 25 x 40 x 26 cm (9.8 x 16 x 10 inches)
Volume: 26L (7 gallons)
Lighting: PL 24W x 2
Plants: Hemianthus callitrichoides, Utricularia graminifolia
Fish: Aplocheilichthys normani (Norman’s Lampeyes)
Decorative materials: Thailand local rock and branches
Juan Puchades Rufino: A nice mountainscape, with a very smart use of Hemianthus callitrichoides (Dwarf Baby Tears) softening the rock texture. I like the effect of cosmetic sand simulating snow, not new but well employed. Placing the shoaling fishes higher up in the photograph would have given the aquarium a better overall look.
Luca Galarraga: Even though mountainscapes aren’t new, this one is perfectly executed, considering the tank size! Congratulations—it’s in my top three!
Long Tran Hoang: This typical layout was created using very good technique and small details.
AQUATIC GARDEN, 28-60L (7-15 US gallons) category
Tank size: 45 x 27 x 30 cm (18 x 11 x 12 inches)
Volume: 36L (10 gallons)
Background: Aqua Soil – Africana
Lighting: PL 36 x 2
Filtration: Eheim Classic 2213
Plants: Anubias “Petite,” Taxiphyllum sp. Flame, Crepidomanes auriculatum, Riccardia graeffei, Taxiphyllum sp. Spiky, Fissidens splachnobryoides, Taxiphyllum sp.
Fish: Hyphessobrycon amandae (Ember Tetras)
Luca Galarraga: This category is always so difficult to judge…I would like to have more awards to give to these awesome works!
Juan Puchades Rufino: Nice execution of a forestscape. I think it could be made better by naturalizing the trees with some Riccardia on the wood. Also, the mosses on top of the trees don’t look natural.
Long Tran Hoang: Using a typical layout in a charming and clever way and positioning the fish well, the owner has created a very fresh and attractive natural scene.
AQUATIC GARDEN, 60-120L (15-31 US gallons) category
Tank size: 35 x 35 x 60 cm (14 x 14 x 24 inches)
Volume: 73L (19 gallons)
Lighting: High power LED (33W)
Filtration: DIY hang-on-back (HOB) surface skimmer
Plants: Riccardia chamedryfolia, Fissidens fontanus
Fishes: Paracheirodon axelrodi (Cardinal Tetras), Poecilia reticulata (Guppies)
Decorative materials: Lava rock
Substrate: River sand
Juan Puchades Rufino: This aquarium is an elaborate representation of a style based on dry work. The stonework is amazing, creating a very unique composition that has great depth. Once the structure is done, the plantings should emphasize the structure and not cover it, and this is achieved in this work using Riccardia and Fissidens.
Long Tran Hoang: The rock arrangement and the details of the layout are very beautiful. The mirroring effect on the water’s surface and rear wall of the aquarium give the viewer the sense of being part of a natural underwater world.
AQUATIC GARDEN, 120-200L (31-52 US gallons) category
Tank size: 90 x 45 x 45 cm (35 x 18 x 18 inches)
Volume: 182L (48 gallons)
Lighting: Opnova EZ-600 LED
Plants: Green algae balls, Crystal Moss, small Triangle Moss, Coral Moss
Fishes/Animals: Pristella maxillaris (X-Ray Tetras)
Decorative materials: Dragon stone
Juan Puchades Rufino: One of the hardest things for an aquascaper to achieve is the feeling that one is looking at a landscape, not an aquarium. This aquarium gets it perfectly. Congratulations!
Luca Galarraga: An impressive and unusual mountainscape. It looks very natural, and the two sides are well balanced. Congratulations, one of my top three!
AQUATIC GARDEN, 320L or larger (84 US gallons and larger) category
Tank size: 120 x 60 x 45 cm (47 x 24 x 18 inches)
Volume: 324L (86 gallons)
Lighting: 10 x T5 JBL 54W (4 Tropic, 3 Color, 3 Natur)
Filtration: 2 x Eheim Professional 3 2073, 1 x Eheim Ecco 2236
Additional information: Maintenance 30% TPA 2 x per week, fertilization Seachem 2 x per week (15 N 25 P 15 K 20 T 10 I 25 Excel) Prime, Stability; ADA ECA, Green Gain, Phyton Git
Plants: Rotala sp. “Nanjenshan,” R. wallichii, R. indica, R. mexicana, Myriophyllum matogrossense “Amano,” Limnophila sp. “Vietnam,” Ludwigia glandulosa, Glossostigma elatinoides, Eleocharis minima, Marsilea hirsuta, M. angustifolia, Calitriche stagnalis, Echinodorus tenellus (Blood), Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides, Taxiphyllum sp., Anubias barteri var. nana, Staurogyne sp., Microsorum pteropus, M. pteropus “Windelov,” Buchephalandra sp.
Fishes: 5 Hyphessobrycon sp., 30 H. amandae (Ember Tetras), 15 H. elachys (Veilfin Tetras), 20 Danio choprae (Glowlight Danios), 15 Hemigrammus erythrozonus (Glowlight Tetras), 3 Crossocheilus siamensis (Siamese Algae Eaters), 8 Sawbwa resplendens (Asian Rummynose)
Decorative materials: ADA Aqua Soil – Amazonia, Power Sand-M, Penac P, Penac W, Bacter 100, Aquamazon CO2 Kit AS-3000, Pollen Glass Beetle 40mm (CO2), Beetle Counter 03 bubbles per second
Juan Puchades Rufino: Progressive elevation of the substrate and the integration and proportions of the elements create an astonishing depth. The stone used is perfectly integrated with the plants; texture and color diversity generates an extraordinary visual effect. The technique used to integrate the cosmetic sand and the plants along pathways is extraordinary. The only elements that could be improved upon are the trimming of the moss region and the balance between the right and left sides: there is a slight discrepancy, which makes both sides look slightly disjointed. (The stone structure is strong and vertical on the left side and horizontal and soft on the right). Regardless, this is a wonderful result, emphasized by a fantastic photograph. Congratulations!
Luca Galarraga: Impressive work! The reflected images on both side glasses are awesome! Very good plant choice, perfect health and care. Congratulations, in my top five.
Long Tran Hoang: The creator hides his techniques in this layout successfully. We can enjoy it like a true, pure part of nature every time we look at it—there are no distractions or artificial touches.
Bailin Shaw: Beautiful layout! The plants have grown in and complement the aquascape nicely.
AQUATIC GARDEN, 200-320L (52-84 US gallons) category
BEST of SHOW Winner
Tank Size: 120 x 45 x 45 cm (47 x 18 x 18 inches)
Volume: 219L (58 gallons)
Lighting: 4 x JBL T5 54W, 8h/day
Filtration: 2 x Eheim Classic 2217
Plants: Marsilea hirsuta, M. angustifolia, Eleocharis parvula, Rotala rotundifolia, R. wallichii, R. sp. “Nanjenshan,” Bolbitis heudelotii, Microsorum pteropus “Windelov,” M. pteropus “Mini,” Hydrocotyle tripartita, Hygrophila pinnatifida, Staurogyne sp., Anubias barteri “Nana,” Echinodorus tenellus, Bucephalandra sp., Fissidens fontanus, Vesicularia sp., Taxiphyllum sp. “Flame Moss”
Fishes/animals: Danio choprai, D. margaritatus, Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi, H. amandae, Sawbwa resplendens, Neocaridina heteropoda sp.
Decorative materials: ADA La Plata Sand, Red Moor Wood, Seiryu Stone
Substrate: Full ADA substrate system
Long Tran Hoang: The aquascaper made the best use of the footprint of the tank to make the typical layout into a natural aquascape with strong impact. This is truly genius.
Juan Puchades Rufino: A wonderful example of a concept that has evolved in recent years; in this case there are new expressions, perfectly executed. The depth achieved through the use of elevated substrate allows the aquascape to have multiple levels. The relationships between rock, wood, sand, and planted areas is 100 percent natural. The work combines perfect technical execution with the right choice of plants, and the number, species, and shoal positions of the fishes are just right. The photography is striking and shows very good management. A masterpiece.
Bailin Shaw: An awesome layout with a superb hardscape layout and excellent plant selection to soften the edges in the aquascape. The layout has excellent depth and the different types of plants are blended well and look natural in their locations. Well done!
Luca Galarraga: Impressive illusion of depth in only 45 centimeters! The balance between plants and hardscape is just perfect. Very dynamic work, with artistic use of sand. Congratulations, in my top ten!
AQUATIC GARDEN, Biotope Aquascape category
Long Tran Hoang: Using untouched driftwood, natural sand, and rocks collected from nature, the aquascaper has successfully reproduced the main features of underwater life in a river. Very lively.
Tank size: 200 x 30 x 40 cm (79 x 12 x 16 inches)
Volume: 220L (58 gallons)
Lighting: 2 x LED T8 tubes
Filtration: 2 x external filters, 900 L/hr
Decorative materials: Cypress driftwood, rocks, and substrate from the river where these
Additional information: This aquarium was inspired by the crystal-clear waters of the Mixteco River around the town of Camotlan, part of the city of Huajuapan de Leon, Oaxaca, Mexico. In September the river bottom is covered with brownish pebbles and decorated with lots of driftwood brought in by the powerful currents created by the heavy rains of August. This habitat is home to Astyanax mexicanus, Notropis moralesi, and N. boucardi. These fishes feed on the aquatic moss that grows on the underwater roots of large cypress trees growing near the river, mostly Fissidens sp. and other types of algae.
Fishes: Astyanax mexicanus (Mexican Blind Cave Tetras), Notropis boucardi (Balsas Shiners), N. moralesi (Papaloapan Chubs)
AQUATIC GARDEN, Dutch Aquascape category
Phil Edwards: This is a perfect example of the Dutch style.
Marco Aukes: In general, Dutch style has a good reputation all over the world, but some people do not like it because they think it is old-fashioned and the plants used are not attractive. This tank could be used to refute such arguments; it is Dutch style at its very best. Just look at the plant collection: there are a lot of “modern” plants, and all appear to be in perfect health. The Ottelia is not only a stunning focal point (especially in combination with the Ludwigia inclinata), but also gives the aquarium an amazing sense of depth. This example also proves that hardscape materials can be used in a Dutch style aquascape as long as it is done properly, as it is here.
Bailin Shaw: This is an impressive Dutch aquascape on a very dramatic scale! I love the mix of colors, textures, and placement used to create this layout. Great job!
Tank size: 230 x 68 x 70 cm (91 x 27 x 28 inches)
Volume: 1100L (291 gallons)
Additional information: My main inspiration for creating depth comes from art and painting. A documentary film that inspired me is Dutch Light (www.dutchlight.nl). I made this aquarium myself because I could not find a standard container that fit the bill. It is made of wood and has a polyester liner. There is an overflow filter to keep the top water layer well lit for the plants.
The gravel layer is about 5 inches (12 cm) thick at the front and slopes up to about 8 inches (20 cm) at the back. I did this to make sure the plants would take root properly. Heating from the bottom takes care of circulation in the soil, in order to avoid rotting. The water values are as follows: Ph 6.8, GH 6, Kh 3, PO4 0.5, NO3 10, uS + – 380, temperature 25°C (77°F).
I change about 18 gallons (70 L) per week using 50% osmosis water and 50% tap water. I add ProFito plant food every day and for the fish I provide mainly dry food, granules and tablets, so that there is food in all the water layers. In addition to fishes there are a lot of shrimps.
I do not use soil. When using marsh plants I add red clay.
AQUATIC GARDEN, Paludarium category
Bailin Shaw: Outstanding layout! The wood and hardscape materials are expertly integrated and the above-water portion is stunning. The bottom portion could be developed a bit more to make this an even stronger paludarium. Great job!
Long Tran Hoang: This layout, created using very skilled technique, copies a piece of the jungle at the onset of flood season. It offers viewers a glimpse of nature.
Tank size: 120 x 70 x 180 cm (47 x 28 x 71 inches)
Volume: 168L (44 gallons)
Lighting: 6 x 40W LED, 2 x 36W uvb 10.0, 1 x 150W metal halide
Filtration: Barrel filter
Additional information: Automatic sprinkler system
Plants: Water bromeliad, Wolf Tail Ferns, Button Ferns, blue ball, a variety of mosses, mini Water Ficus
Fishes/Animals: Panther Chameleon, Western Hyla, Lotus Lantern, black shell shrimp
Decorative materials: River stone, sand, driftwood, azalea root, vines
AMAZONAS COVER Selection, 132L (35 US gallons)
Karen Randall: A lovely tank, showing good attention to both the land and water sections. Nice choice of fishes!
Dave Chow: A well-organized layout! The plant arrangement is good both above and under the water.
Tank size: 90 x 38 x 38 cm (35 x 15 x 15 inches)
Volume: 132L (35 gallons)
Lighting: 2 x LED UP Aqua Z-Series
Filtration: Eheim 2017
Additional information: Ferka Aquabase, Ferka Aquatilizer, Ferka Balance K, Aquamania Water CO2
Plants: FG Peargrass, Glossostigma, Bucep, Anubias, Spiky Moss, Minipearl Moss Mid, Heteranthera zosterifolia, Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides BG Rotala “Super Red,” Rotala sp. “Green,” Ludwigia, Eleocharis sp.
Fish: Ember Tetras
Decorative materials: Black earth soil, local stone and driftwood, ADA La Plata Sand