Mark Evans set up this superb planted display tank in his local aquatic shop. George Farmer finds out how he did it.
I’ve been closely following Mark’s progress as an aquascaper for about a year, having spotting his potential relatively early in his career. He is an active and very productive member of a UK planted tank forum and is probably best known for his excellent journals.
With a background in photography, Mark illustrates his work incredibly well and his keen eye for composition is reflected in some highly credible aquascapes.
He has come a long way in less than two years. Passionate and with an open mind and willingness to learn and share, Mark embraces the latest plant-growing techniques. Combined with what must be a substantial budget — hi-tech planted tanks can be expensive — this outlook allows him to quickly grow-in complete aquascapes, gaining experience with every new plant and set-up.
This aquascape was created for the Maidenhead Aquatics branch at East Bridgford in Nottinghamshire after several discussions with the shop’s staff. One thing led to another and Mark was soon setting up this 90cm/35” display tank.
Interested onlookers there gave Mark the opportunity to discuss his planting and growing techniques.
The display tank is a great advertisement for all aspects of the planted tank hobby — from selling the shop’s plants and hardware to showing the public just how easy it can be to set up and maintain a gorgeous aquascape.
Mark visits the shop once a week, performing necessary maintenance tasks such as water changes and plant pruning. Staff at the shop undertake the regular daily maintenance tasks. Fertilisers are added daily via dry chemicals directly to the water in accordance with the Estimative Index (EI).
I applaud what Mark has done here, not only in creating an excellent aquascape, but helping to promote the whole hobby.
Mark reveals his passion for aquascaping in this interview…
How did you come up with the aquascape design?
This design was inspired by another aquascape I’d done called ‘The Henge’. There were many factors with that aquascape I felt I could improve on, such as stone arrangement, plant choice and perception of depth.
We may all aspire to re-create these underwater scenes, looking as close to nature as possible — even if not underwater or biotope correct. Ultimately these are borrowed ideas from the likes of Takashi Amano and, the biggest inspiration of all, Mother Nature!
The plant choice was based around plants regularly available in the shop. Plants such as Eleocharis acicularis and Rotala rotundifolia are often sold in my particular branch, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to show what is possible with such plants when planted in the correct manner.
The use of Hemianthus callitrichoides was a tough decision, knowing the demands of this plant and also knowing a lot of customers may not want to venture down the roads of high light, CO2 injection and nutrient-rich regimes. I still decided to use it purely for the ‘big hit’ factor.
How did the shop’s staff react when you insisted on dosing nitrates and phosphates? Were they surprised about any other techniques employed on this aquarium, such as high circulation levels?
Matt, the store manager, is open to new ideas so the thought of adding potassium nitrate and potassium phosphate didn’t seem to shock as much as I first thought.
I believe my CO2 injection technique raised a few eyebrows when they saw the amount, but it is still completely fish safe, of course. A lot of the techniques we adopt are a world away from the ‘general’ fishkeeper, but overall the staff I dealt with fully embraced the idea of high water circulation/turnover, CO2 injection and regular nutrient dosing.
Did you encounter problems? How did you overcome them? What did you learn?
I’m never short of a problem or two! The first was the initial die-back of Hemianthus as it’s something I’d never experienced before. I’m not sure fully but I believe when I filled the tank I didn’t take into account the time of year…the water was freezing!
After about one week, roughly 20% had died. Yet within two weeks I’d recovered the rest and growth started in earnest.
Another thing I had to consider was nutrient dosing. As I only visited weekends, dosing had to be of an easy nature or rather without allowing any deficiencies.
An advantage of EI dosing is not limiting any nutrient, so there’s no shortfall for the plants’ requirements. Combined with two weekly water changes, CO2 injection and an algae crew, the tank has been algae free, even with relatively high lighting.
Green spot algae started to develop in the first few weeks, so I gave instruction to dose more potassium phosphate.
Finally, the glass rim brace blocked some of the available light. This affected the Rotala growth at the edges of the aquarium. I planned for a ‘U’-shaped layout but, because of diffused lighting at the edges, the Rotala grew stronger towards the centre of the layout, adversely affecting the overall picture concept.
How old is this layout and how long will you keep this aquascape running for?
It’s approximately 12 weeks old and in its current form not yet complete and the stems must undergo many more trims before I’m totally happy.
I plan to run it past its prime just for the benefit of the shop’s customers, so they can see exactly what certain plants do over time.
I don’t plan re-doing the tank with the same layout, as it’s not something I like to do. I’d much rather start all over again.
The plan for the next in-store tank is already under way. I’m to aquascape a 120 x 50 x 80cm/57 x 20 x 31” which will consist of mostly crypts and ferns.
What advice do you have for newcomers to the planted tank and aquascaping hobby?
There’s a lot to consider when starting. From the outset, invest in as many plants as you can. Restrict lighting to six hours per day at least on a timer on a high light tank. Inject CO2 at higher levels than normal — with no livestock at aquarium start-up — dose fertilisers generously and carry out regular water changes.
Nutrient-rich substrates are very important too. I’ve recently had success with JBL Aquabasis Plus and Oliver Knott’s Nature Soil.
You have progressed rapidly as an aquascaper in a relatively short time. How has this happened?
Research! The Internet is our most valuable tool we can grasp. It allows us to look at new and old works by more experienced aquascapers the world over. It also allows for many more enthusiasts to get together to discuss and share the finer points of the hobby.
Passion is another big factor and is essentially my driving force. Just like a student at college, the need to learn a lot in a short space of time seems to bring out the best in my abilities.
Constantly reading, looking and trying to re-create….that’s me!
This article was first published in the June 2009 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.