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Interview with William Ng PDF Print E-mail
Written by Editorial Staff   

Our aquascape in focus this month features William Ng's Sunny Grassland. The hardscape here speaks for itself, with a strong presence throughout the layout.  The varying colors of the background, which represent morning, noon and the setting sun is accomplished in a unique way. Read more to discover how William Ng does it.

Aquascape in Focus 

Q: William, please tell us about yourself.

A: I am William Ng and I am 32 years old.  Currently, I am working as a senior research and development engineer at a life science instrument company. Apart from planted tanks, I play table tennis and watch football during my free time.

I like Iwagumi aquascaping due to their simplicity.  Iwagumi aquascaping focuses on rock formations and simple ground cover plants.  It makes me feel calm and relaxed.  Like most aquascapers, I admire the work of Mr. Takashi Amano.  I feel he is the best aquascaper I have seen and the works he creates are simply amazing.  Every single aquascape he’s created has never failed to impress me.

Q: What is it like to live in Singapore, a culture that is rich in planted aquariums nearly everywhere?

A: Well, Singapore is a small country, but I think we have over  eighty-five aquarium shops located all over Singapore.  It is easy and accessible to travel around in Singapore, so we can get our aquarium supplies easily from almost everywhere. Alternatively, it is easy to order online and have the stuff delivered to your doorstep, too.

Singapore is a tropical country, so the weather is pretty hot (30-35°C) and humid throughout the year.  The heat and humidity creates a challenge that most aquascapers face, since most plants grow better in cooler water.  Fish are generally more affordable here, judging from the prices of Cardinal tetras in Europe and the U.S.

In Singapore, I am not aware of any unique aquascaping style created locally. However, I feel we get most of our inspiration from the Japanese Zen style and most of us improvise to create our own aquascape.  I have seen a couple of great aquascaping layouts around Singapore but one particular tank I saw a few years back caught my attention.  It was a huge planted tank (approx 8 – 10 ft) that housed a full grown arowana.  The overall feel is nice and simple yet blends very well with a huge elegant fish.

Even though we have many stores, one problem I face personally is the availability of nice rocks.  It is not easy to get suitable materials to create Iwagumi aquascape, therefore finding rocks of the right type, size and shape is a challenge.

Q: When did you get started in planted aquariums?

A: Well, I started my first four foot planted tank in 2004 with the objective of growing aquatic plants.  I bought some plants from the local stores with a mindset of growing them without any particular aquascape in mind. I continued this for the next three years and over this period I successfully managed to learn everything I could about aquarium plants.  However, I didn’t really improve much in terms of aquascaping.  That was my next task.

In 2007, I decided to change my approach and start all over again.  I wanted to understand the fundamentals of aquascaping and its approach before I started laying out my new planted tank.  I researched and admired different aquascaped aquariums, and before long, I decided to go into smaller tanks.

With the focus on the aquascape this time around, I  spent the next few months sourcing layout materials before I began working on “Sunny Grassland” in Dec 2007.  This is my first real aquascape and my first experience in international contest (ADA 2008).  I created an Iwagumi style tank that looks simple yet able to give me a feeling of calm and harmony.

Q: What inspired the creation of Sunny Grassland?

White Flourescent Bulbs light up the backgroundA: My aquascape “Sunny Grassland” is not created based on any specific inspiration.  I was on a flight back to Singapore when I saw a picture of mountainous grassland inside a magazine.  I thought why not create something similar.  At that time, I only had a very vague idea, but did not really know exactly what I wanted to do.

After some consideration, I knew I needed a huge rock to create a mountainous effect.  This rock would be the main focus of my tank.  Initially, my plan was to get a big Seiryu rock as my main stone.  After some intensive searching, I could not find a suitable rock, thus, I settled on Ohko rocks.

Looking at the bright side, Okho rocks are very brittle so they are easily shaped or broken into smaller pieces if needed. I used a large Okho stone as my main stone, and  a smaller piece as its complimentary stone. Three additional smaller stones are placed near the main stone to make the scape look more natural.

For Sunny Grassland, I wanted to create an impression  similar to what we see during sunrise.  Therefore, I needed to choose a plant suitable for this scape.

Q: How did you choose your plant and fauna species for Sunny Grassland?

A: For this aquarium layout, I decided to use Echinodorus tenellus, since this plant stays short and grows quickly, making it an excellent lawn plant.  Under strong lights and sufficient iron dosage, Echinodorus tenellus leaves will turn reddish.  This is ideal since the contrast between thenn and red leaves reflects the colors cast on a landscape during sunrise.

I trim my plants when I feel they start to grow too untidy or too tall for my liking.  Most of the time, I will trim the Echinodorus tenellus by cutting the top.  I will trim the runners occasionally to thin down certain areas.  After trimming, I dose with ADA Green Gain, as it contains trace elements and minerals that can help the plants recover.

As for fish, I chose them based on their size.  I felt a maximum size of  about 2cm in length would be most suitable for this scape as they make the tank look bigger.  The species Hyphessobrycon amandae fit this characteristic and their orange/red colors contrasted well with my blue background and the green plants.

My good friend, who is a breeder of Cardinal sp., also gave me fifteen quality (solid stripes) shrimps to compliment my fauna.  It is nice to see some shrimps crawling on the rocks and plants.

Q:  Your aquascape has been setup for nearly eight months.  Did you have any algae problems during that time?  An Orange Background lights up the scape

A: Yes, the tank was setup in  December of last year.  I did have my fair share of algae problem as I like to use fertile soil and strong lights.  The first four weeks seemed pretty fine as I started with low lighting hours before I gradually increased to a full eight hours lighting regime.  I was away from home for the next 4 weeks and when I returned,  my tank's walls and rocks were infested with green dust algae.

I removed and scraped  most of the algae off and then did a 50% water change.  I dosed a double dosage of Seachem Excel for a short period thereafter.  I also restarted my normal fertilization regime and then reduced my lighting hours to my current regime (4 hours on, 2 hours off, 2 hours on).

With these changes in place, algae disappeared, and plants were growing well.  I believe a healthy tank can keep algae away.

Q: How do you create the colorful background and sunset like you have?  How did you achieve the ripple effect on the surface of the water?

A: I don’t have a permanent background for my tank.  This gives me flexibility as I use cardboards of different colors to provide different effects.  For my current setup, I have chosen a light blue background.  I have tried a white background and an orange background, but none seemed to provide the kind of effect I wanted.  I placed a fluorescent tube between the background and my tank wall to make the background look more prominent.  This also creates a brighter effect at the top of the background, mimicking the sun’s rays. 

The ripple effects can be created either by using a fan or a hair dryer to blow directly on the water surface.  Different effects can be achieved by adjusting the height and angle of the hair dryer to create different ripple effects.

Q: This 45 cm tank seems so large.  How did you create such a well defined depth?

A: Some of my friends ask me about the Echinodorus tenellus. They thought I was using one taller species for my background and a shorter one for my foreground.  In fact, I am using the same for both.  My slope at the back of my tank is about 12-14cm on the left, whereas the front is only about 3-4cm thick.

Personally, I prefer a thicker substrate at the back, preferably three to four times thicker than the front, in order to create more depth.

Q: What are some of your favorite aquascapes that you’ve done in the past?

A: I have done a few planted tanks in the past, but I don’t have a favorite because they’re still in the process of growing. Additionally, my photography skills are horrible, so I didn’t keep any of the photographs.

“Sunny Grassland” is my favorite tank so far.  It is the one that I entered the ADA 2008 competition with.  It is the first tank I’ve ever entered into a competition.  I saw a lot of great aquascaping entries in last year’s ADA contest.  I think the 2008 entries will be similar and will be dominated by aquascapers from Japan & Hong Kong.  To me, the ranking is not important as there are many better aquascapers than myself.  Every participant is always trying to improve and create a breakthrough.  I simply enjoy the process of putting my creativity into practice and it is great to learn from fellow aquascapers.  This hobby allows me to make lots of friends, not just locally, but globally.

Q: William, what do you look forward to doing next in the hobby?

A: I hope I can continue to improve my aquascaping skills as well as create a few more new projects.  My 45cm ADA tank will still be my main focus as I feel this is a good size to work with.  I am planning to start working on a new scape.  Right now, I am thinking of new ideas and checking for the availability of materials.

Personally, I like nano tanks so I am keen to explore these options.  I always feel it is interesting to see an aquascape inside these small tanks, so I am planning to start my own nano project.  I recently found a suitable tank, but finding good lighting fixtures for it has been a challenge.  I hope to make it compact and less power consuming.

Lastly, I hope the aquascapers here in Singapore get together more often to learn and exchange ideas from one another.  We do have a good forum ( where people exchange ideas, knowledge and learn from each other.  Personally, I feel we have some good aquascapers in Singapore.  However, I feel we need to have more face to face gatherings to get some hands-on experience, and push our hobby further.  

Aquascape in Focus: Sunny Grassland 50 liters - Sunny Grassland

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