Dutch style aquascapes
The Dutch aquarium follows an orderly, often symmetrical arrangement, in which multiple types of plants having diverse leaf colors, sizes and textures are displayed much as terrestrial plants are shown in a flower garden. This style was developed in the Netherlands starting in the 1930’s, as freshwater aquarium equipment became commercially available. It emphasizes plants located on terraces of different heights, and frequently omits rocks and driftwood. Linear rows of plants running left-to-right are referred to as “Dutch streets.” Tall growing plants that cover the back glass originally served the purpose of hiding bulky equipment in the tank.
Nature style aquascapes
A contrasting approach is the nature or Japanese style, introduced in the 1990’s by Takashi Amano. Amano’s three-volume series, Nature Aquarium World, sparked a wave of interest in aquarium gardening, and he has been regarded as quite possibly the most influential aquascaper in the world. Amano’s compositions draw on Japanese gardening techniques that attempt to mimic natural landscapes by the asymmetrical arrangement of masses of relatively few species of plants, and carefully selected stones or driftwood. The objective is to evoke a landscape in miniature, rather than a colorful garden. This style draws particularly from the Japanese aesthetic concepts of Wabi-sabi, which focuses on transience and minimalism, and Iwagumi, which governs rock placement. Plants with small leaves are usually emphasized, with more limited colors than in the Dutch style, and fish or freshwater shrimp are usually selected to complement the plants and control algae.
The styles above often combine plant and animal species based on the desired visual impact, without regard to geographic origin. Biotope aquascapes are designed instead to replicate exactly a particular aquatic habitat at a particular geographic location, and not necessarily to provide a garden-like display. Plants and fish need not be present, but if they are, they as well as any gravel and hardscape must match what would be found in nature in the habitat being represented.
In a paludarium, part of the aquarium is underwater, and part is above water. This allows plants to grow emersed, with their roots underwater but their tops in the air, as well as completely submersed.
Dutch and nature style aquascapes are traditionally freshwater systems. In contrast, relatively few ornamental plants can be grown in a saltwater aquarium. Saltwater aquascaping typically centers on mimicking a reef. An arrangement of live rock forms the main structure of this aquascape, and it is populated by corals and other marine invertebrates as well as coralline algae, which together serve much the same aesthetic role as freshwater plants.