Competing Against the Best Aquascapers in the World
Written by Marcin Peczek   

In 2008, my aquascape “Green Recess” ranked a whopping 68 out of 1170 entries in the 2008 International Aquatic Plant Layout Contest. Let me tell you, it wasn’t all that easy.

Competing with the Best Aquascapers

My name is Marcin (Martin) Peczek, I’m 34 years old and I live in Lodz, Poland. I have a wonderful wife Anna and daughter Maggie (2.5 years old). Both of them love waterworld. I studied chemistry, which is sometimes very useful in aquaria.

With some breaks in between, I have been addicted to aquaria since I was seven. My first aquarium was metal-framed and I raised Xiphophorus helleri there. Later, the time came for my first silicon glued tank with plants and fish.  It was a typical community tank, which after a few years it was torn down. I owe my current comeback to aquaria to my wife (at that time my girlfriend) as she was the one who bought me my first fish. When I first heard about Dutch Style Aquascaped Aquariums, I was really pleased by  the vision of a tank, where plants are the most important. A few years later, on a Polish discussion forum, I read about the famous aquascaper Takashi Amano and his “Nature Aquarium”. Since then I began learning how to arrange aquarium layouts to conform to the “Nature Style”.

Inspiration of “Green Recess”

Cardinal TetrasThe inspiration of Green Recess was from one of the aquasacapes, made by Takashi Amano, which I saw in The Style of ADA catalogue (page 68-69 of that book). I wanted to challenge myself and see if I can manage to create something similar. Of course my aquasscape turned out completely different in the end, but I still learned a lot of new techniques and I realized that trying to copy an existing aquarium is not as easy as it appears to be.

I began the layout in September 2007 and I continued to nurture it until July 2008. After some attempts with red plants, in Spring I went all the way and aimed the scape into my favorite, all green plants.

As the layout developed, the title of this aquascape came to my mind when I noticed that when I gazed into the scape, I felt drawn into a quiet and relaxed state. I imagine the feeling is similar to how a fish feels while resting under driftwood – that’s where the “Recess” part of the title came from.

Arranging the Hardscape

The rocks used in “Green Recess” are called Manten Stone. I received them from my good friend Adam Paszczela.

Beside being simply pleasing to the eye, the Manten Stone functions to separate the substrate and the sand. This was essential to keeping the layout clean and composed. The lines defined by the rock layout created a foundation for which the viewer could return to as their eyes move slowly from the plants, driftwood and the rocks.

Driftwood setting was not difficult since I only had two pieces of it. I just placed them into the tank and I was satisfied with the result instantly.

Aquascaping the Plants

Eleocharis parvula The main plant in this aquascape is one of my favorites: Eleocharis sp.. This time I decided to buy from Tropica. The variation of Eleocharis is incredible when compared to E. parvula from non-commercial farm which I had in the previous aquascape. Tropica’s Eleocharis’ leaves (needles) are more delicate and they bow down to the substrate, while growing, so the plant is not so high. 

Eleocharis sp. is a relatively easy to grow plant so I recommend it for the beginners. Planting does not require much experience. It is enough to take it out from the basket, clean it from the wool, split into several portions and then put the plant into the substrate where we want to. After 2-3 months we will have a  beautiful, green lawn. In

order to speed up the effect it is good to cut the plant very low after planting, removing the emersed grown leaves, so that algae will not grow on them, and the new submerse leaves will appear sooner.

I trimmed Eleocharis every two months in different spots  which allowed me to achieve the  natural effect of higher and lower grass. I took this idea right from the wild lawn in front of my house.  The overall effect created a more chaotic and wild (but natural) atmosphere in the layout.

My second favorite, is a grassy plant called Sagittaria subulata. In the beginning I didn’t plan it to be in this aquascape; it is correct to say that it appeared surprisingly – I must have left an old bulb of the plant in the substrate when forming it. After some time the Sagittaria  grew so large that I spent long hours with the scissors, trimming it back so that it would not dominate the aquascape.

Another of my favorite plants, Hemianthus micranthemoides (HM) has a  particular leaf structure with only two leaves in the vertical that I like. It is very good plant to trim and form. In my first aquascape, which I sent to 2005 International Aquatic Plant Layout Contest, with frequent and low trimming I created a HM lawn in the front part of aquarium. This time I didn’t need it so I let it grow as it wished to. Two months after planting I did the first trimming  at 1/3 of its height to let it grow denser.  After that, I trimmed HM regularly on different heights to increase the growth density. The final forming was made a few days before the photo was taken, I trimmed only stems which were too long and did not look good.

Trimming Plants

I know you’re thinking that I trim the plants regularly to get them “groomed” into the shape I want.  However this is quite the opposite.  I rarely force the plants to anything, and even when I try to do so, it is even more rarely achieved. That’s why I usually let the plants grow as they wish and where they wish to in my aquarium. Of course there are moments when I have to use scissors, but I do it rather on impulse, without a specific scheme. Sometimes a plant mass need to be trimmed so that fish have the space to swim, or other times while looking at the aquascape something just doesn’t look fine to me. Trimming is a moment which I sometimes regard and sometimes I am satisfied with.

Substrate Design

Setup AquariumThe substrate I used is a few bags of new ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Normal and Powder, and a few liters of used Aqua Soil from previous aquascapes. At the very bottom I also added Bacter 100, Clear Super and Tourmaline BC to start up the bacterial colonies. In the front, as a decoration sand, I used ADA Bright Sand.

The substrate height was 2.5 cm in the foreground and about 7.5 cm in the background.  As mentioned previously I used Manten stones to separate the sand from the Amazonia. Although the stones did a great job at keeping the two substrates apart, of course my shrimps would dig up the Amazonia and dirty up the sand. I had to clean the sand every so often using 4/6 mm silicon hose during water changes. A few times when it was too difficult to clean, I was forced to replace part of sand foreground with fresh portion.

Tank Maintenance is an Everyday Activity

From daily fertilizing, weekly water changes, and the occasional trimming, it all adds up to a lot of effort to keep a healthy aquascaped aquarium.

I made a fertilizing schedule for each day. The beginning was Sunday, 1/3 water change (about 22 litres) and progressively I would add various amounts of fertilizers each day.

For the most part, the bigger trimmings (stems, moss, eleocharis sp.) are done before the water change on Sundays. The other days I often do small trimmings with scissors to keep things tidy, especially when it came to stopping new runners of Saggitaria subulata.

Overcoming Algae

In this aquascape I had some problems with Blue-green Algae (BGA), especially on the sand by the front glass, and on the rocks. In order to get rid of them I used ADA Phyton Git, which is a liquid supplement that can stimulate stem growth, and chemically, at the same time can help deter the growth of algae. However, the best method on BGA was removing the dirty part of sand and replacing it with fresh sand. I removed BBA mechanically, using Pro Picker from ADA – it is a great tool especially in difficult to reach places.

Of course the best way to control algae are frequent water changes, stabilized fertilizing and keeping the tank clean and tidy as a whole, so that low levels of organic carbon appear. Algae eaters such as Caridina multidentata and Crossocheilus siamensis are also helpful, but they don’t always want to eat algae.

Fish Selection: “If it ain’t broke then why fix it?”

In this aquascape I used  Green Neon Tetras (Paracheirodon simulans) from the previous aquascape. From the beginning I felt they fit this layout just as well so I did not consider any other species. I did however increase the school size up to 40-50 fish.

Favorite Aspects of Green Recess

Planted AquariumI think I like the mid-left of the aquascape the best. Many species of plants join together there – Eleocharis parvula, Glossostigma elatinoides, Microsorum pteropus ‘Narrow’, Sagittaria subulata, Taxiphyllum alternans and moreover Manten Stones and driftwood. The aquascape in this area is very detailed, which dynamically changes as plants grow and infiltrate each other. I feel, that this part of layout is the best, and everyone will find something interesting here.

Prevailing Challenges

The biggest problem (and most tiring) was keeping the sand clean and BBA occurrence from the rocks. Despite using the ADA Phyton Git, cleaning the stones and frequent water changes (sometimes even twice a week) they always came back after some time. At the end (in May 08) cutting out new runners of Sagittaria, while attempting not to destroy the well grown aquascape became quite tiring.

Accomplishment at the 2008 IAPLC

Personally I was very surprised that I achieved a dreamed place in the first 100.  I ranked #77 among over 1200 entries.  I have already seen this year’s contest album, and I think that the participants level in the first 100 was very high as always, and I am even more delighted and honored to be graded among the other beautiful layouts.

If I had to make this aquascape once more, I think I would change the arrangement of stones in the central part. Especially one of them is not fine for me, I didn’t manage to soften the bold driftwood impression. But all in all, I wouldn’t change a lot, I still like this layout and working on it, even though it was  sometimes difficult, “Green Recess” gave me lot of pleasure.