Broken Stone Garden is an aquascape that is truly rustic in its layout and roots. This rimless planted aquarium showcases a simple, natural beauty from its thriving Glossostigma elatinoides foreground to the beautiful algae covering the rock garden. The aquascaper behind this masterpiece, Pedro Pinto, provides us a closer look at his planted aquarium and the inspiration that started it all.
Q: Tell us a about yourself. When/How did you get started in planted aquariums?
A: Im Pedro Pinto Im 23 years old and currently finishing the degree in Geology in the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon. Besides aquariums I also have a great passion for motorcycles and tennis. I got into the world of aquariums not long ago. I guess it was in February 2005 when I bought one of those small betta display tanks but it didnt keep me satisfied for long. My first experience with aquatic plants came with a 60cm aquarium that I found in my grandmothers garage. At the time I found it amazing that I could actually make the plants grow and didnt care much about the layout. A few months after i began paying more attention to the general look of the aquarium as I joined some forums and met some aquascapers. After some extensive research I set up a 130m (March 2006) tank and that was my first true planted aquarium and also my first experience in international contests (ADA 2007). It was a simple Iwagumi layout but it helped me learning the basics of aquascaping.
Q: Lets jump right into your scape. Tell us more about your feature Broken Stone Garden.
A: This aquarium was set up in the middle of January 2008 and its still a work in progress. For this layout I wanted to give the impression of a rock worn and broken by natural processes as it happens in nature. I positioned the plants to give the impression of them adapting to whatever space there is available for them to grow.
Starting with the background there is a mass of Hemianthus micranthemoides with some spare Eleocharis vivipara to break some of the monotony. I planted Rotala rotundifolia just to give it a little bit of orange. In the front, I have three species of plants: Glossostigma elatinoides; Hemianthus micranthemoides; and Eleocharis minima. I like to mix them because they harmonize each other and give it the feel that they are actually competing for the control of the substrate.
Surprisingly my biggest challenge with this layout came from the equipment. I have a 3x24W T5 HO light (wich for this tank size is pretty good) but for a while I had problems with Glossostigma growing up and Hemianthus micranthemoides just not growing dense. I added an extra 40W PLL light wich quickly took care of it and now its goind really well. Its my first experience with T5 lights and so far Im not that pleased. Until now I had just used PLL lights in my aquariums and it has worked fine so I might just go back to using them.
Q: What is something special that we should know about the aquascape that is not necessarily obvious?
A: Well surely the title Broken Stone Garden has a special meaning. Initially this layout was meant to be in a triangular shape with a large rock as a centre piece. During the planning I found that the main rock was just too large and tried to reshape it resulting in me breaking it into two smaller pieces which actually worked far better than the original one. The title of the aquascape Broken Stone Garden seem to fit nicely.
Q: How often you do regular maintenance?
A: My basic maintenance consists of a weekly water change of 50%. Ill supplement fertilizers twice a week adding the usual proportions of nutrients (10ppm of NO3, 18ppm of K, 2ppm of PO4, plus trace elements and iron). For CO2 injection, I have it adjusted for 1 bubble/second. I dont have a schedule for trimming I just do it when I feel the harmony is being lost.
Q: Algae can become a big issue for many hobbyists. How have you managed to overcome algae?
A: I usually dont have any problems with algae. Neither in the initial steps of the aquarium nor on the rest of the layouts duration. I dont use fertile substrate, and dose very little amounts of nutrients in the first few weeks of the layout. The reason that I dont like to use fertile substrates it that I prefer to have a tighter control over the amounts of nutrients on the water. During the initial stages, I also keep a shorter light period, 6 hours.
Q: How do you choose your plant species and fish for a particular scape?
A: Both fish and plants must be chosen accordingly to the general guideline of the aquarium. After deciding what type of layout I want to create I spend a lot of time looking at photos of other layouts analysing how this or that plant suits my idea. After setting up the layout I start thinking about the fish for it. Depending on whether I want give the impression of a luxurious and vibrant nature or a balanced and quiet landscape I tend to look not only for colour and shape of the fish but also at their behaviour.
In one of my past layouts of driftwood and ferns I chose Hemmigramus hyanuary because they are a quite active fish and suited very well to the dancing Cyperus helferi in the background, although their coloration is not that intense. Definitely my favorite fish is the Paracheirodon simulans with its simplicity and grace. A fish that I also like a lot and use very often is the Aplocheilichthys normani. I used both of them in my first Iwagumi layout and in my current layout.
Q: Describe how you come up with your aquascaping layouts.
A: All my aquascapes start in a piece of paper. I prefer to sketch a few variations of the same idea with several plant combinations to see which one works best. Once I decide how it will be I start by trying a simple arrangement of the hardscape with few details and let it rest for a few days until it grows on me (or not). When working with rocks I try to place them so that it creates the impression of a larger rock being weathered and breaking into smaller ones.
As for driftwood layouts I prefer the feel of an old tree decomposing and opening up but transmitting an impression of water flow so I usually place pieces of wood in a radial arrangement with a specific dominant orientation.
Q: After creating an aquascape that is so beautiful when do you decide to take it down?
A: Most of the times its when I have a new idea that I just cant wait to try. As my experience grows and my confidence matures I am now trying to experience layouts for longer times where I can sit back and enjoy my work. At the same time, I like to see how long my original idea holds, and what planted aquarium develops into.
Q: Aquascaping is challenging. You clearly have a good grasp on the concepts, what advice can you give to fellow aquascapers?
A: Usually aquascaping is not hard for me because I spend a lot of time working on my ideas and planning the layout in my mind.
I believe that great things are achieved with great effort and surely it helps very much to have a natural artistic talent but I think it comes mainly from a great passion for aquascapes, hard work and last but not least a lot of hours studying and analysing the work of great aquascapers (I would guess much like in art classes).
Because it hasnt been that long since I began aquascaping, I still feel very close to beginner problems and sometimes I too feel overwhelmed with the huge number of plant species available when it comes do make decisions. The main problem I think is to know what works and what doesnt.
I find that newcomers tend to stick with very geometrical layouts (a flat area on the front with low growing plants and a curtain of stem plants in the background) and have a hard time when they try to harmonize it. Thats why I think its important to expose themselves to many influences to start forming their own ideas and developing a critical opinion so they dont feel marvelled whenever they look at just any aquascape.
The hobby is definitely spreading as the equipments get more affordable and more people take interest in it. A lot of ideas have been explored to exhaustion but as long as there are new ones coming in it will surely be an extremely beautiful and attractive hobby.
Q: Whats in stored for the aquascaping future of Pedro Pinto?
A: I hope I continue to improve my technique and get involved in more projects. Currently I also have a coldwater tank with a bed of river rocks and nymphaeas and a paludarium. Im planning to set up a nano planted aquarium but Im still gathering the equipment.
In the future Id like to try more U-shape Iwagumis, because so far Ive been doing mostly island shaped scape. I also want to explore more on those deep jungle driftwood layouts with ferns and mosses. For my next layout Id like to create something that resembles a fallen tree being overwhelmed by low growing plants.
Broken Stone Garden