James wanted to create an original, modern Andy Warhol, pop-art style of Nature Aquarium. To do this, he used the ADA Sado-Akadama Stone which has a lovely red colour, and the ADA Aqua Screen in Clear Green because red and green are at opposite ends of the colour spectrum and therefore create a very dramatic contrast, like blue and orange or purple and yellow do.
At first, James was not sure about the Aqua Screen but as this aquascape has grown in he has been very pleased with it and is excited about the opportunities it provides for originality.
This aquascape reflects the artistic nature of aquascaping, and the way in which there are an endless range of styles and influences for the aquascaper to draw upon.
The full video features detailed explanations of James’ inspiration, techniques and planting tips.
Skip to the bottom of this page to see full ‘grown in’ photo coverage.
This full video features detailed explanations of James’ inspiration, techniques and planting tips along with step by step coverage of the creation of Five Stones.
This video uses time-lapse photography to document James Findley aquascaping a stunning ADA Wood Cabinet White & ADA Cube Garden 60-P Aquarium at The Green Machine. This ultimate all-ADA setup is currently on display in The Green Machine, Wrexham. This video serves as a trailer for the full real time video which will be published once the aquascape has grown in. Come and see for yourself how the aquascape is growing in!
Professional aquascaper and founder of the green machine
This year James Findley was commissioned to plant an all ADA aquascape.
First we will look at James’ inspiration for this layout. Secondly we will explore the origins of Iwagumi layouts and look at how you can create a beautiful and effect iwagumi layout at home before finally summarising the main steps in an Iwagumi layout.
As the layout comes together you will see that this tank was created in the traditional Iwagumi style. James wanted to bring out the simplicity and beauty of the ADA White Cabinet, and to experiment with the ADA aqua Screen so he decided to create the layout as a tribute to Andy Warhol and the pop art movement, which used strong vibrant, contrasting colours to create vivid, graphic images. In order to achieve this James used Sado-Akadama stone which has a strong red colour, to contrast against the green aqua screen. The iwagumi layout lends itself well to the pop art style, because of the strong, graphic, lines of the layout.
Because this was a display piece james used the full ada substrate system. The substrate additives are not essential, and a beautiful nature aquarium display can be created using just ADA aqua soil, but because it was important for the display to be perfect james opted to use the full system to make sure that the aquarium was easy to maintain and ensure the best possible plant growth. The substrate additives are all designed to ensure that the optimum conditions for the growth and multiplication of beneficial bacteria are achieved and maintained within the substrate layer for the duration of the aquarium’s life span.
04.06 – once all of the substrate additives have been completed, the power sand is then added. Power sand is an excellent material that really makes a difference to the maintenance of the aquascape, and is used in all of the displays in The Green Machine. James uses substrate supports to allow him to bank the substrate up very highly in the middle, without the aqua soil rolling back down or collapsing.
05.05 Finally, the aqua soil is carefully added to the aquarium and this completed the substrate layer. Using a small plastic container makes it a much more manageable task than pouring it straight out of the bag.
05.51 Once the substrate layer is complete, the next step is to place the hardscape materials. The hardscape materials are very important because they create the framework of the layout. For more information on this, please see our earlier videos or read the articles on our website.
This video will concentrate specifically on the layout and composure of an Iwagumi.
The term Iwagumi is commonly heard in the aquascaping world: It is used to refer to an aquascape that traditionally uses stone as the only hardscape material, and, as you will see, iwagumi’s are a very versatile layout that can be incredibly captivating, beautiful, mysterious or dramatic
The term Iwagumi was originally used to refer to a Japanese gardening style in which stones were used as the ‘bones’ of the garden: in other words, to provide its structure
There is no minimum or limit to the number of stones in an Iwagumi layout. Those with more stones have an added element of complexity and intricacy whilst those with fewer stones like Sanzon Iwagumis, which have just three stones, possess a more striking, symbolic elegance.
It is best to use an odd number of stones – so 3, 5, 7 or 9 stones because humans have a tendency to arrange things in a stylised or symmetrical way, which is very unnatural and quite unbeautiful. It is ironic that we are naturally drawn to patterns of randomness and even chaos but that when we attempt to create something beautiful we instinctively revert to stylised patterns that we find unattractive. For more information on this have a look at the video ‘the making of nature’s chaos’ Using an odd number of stones prevents us from arranging the stones in an orderly, symmetrical way and makes the Iwagumi more attractive and natural. It also prevents the scape appearing to be ‘split’ – with an even number of stones on either side.
Once James has placed all the stones, he makes a final check to ensure that the overall layout is balanced and then places more substrate supports between the rocks. Finally he pours a little more aqua soil over the stones to create a more natural effect.
Each rock in an Iwagumi has its own name and function. When selecting your stones it is important to bear in mind their purpose within the aquascape. It is best to use the same variety of stone throughout the Iwagumi aquascape as this will create a more natural effect.
The primary stone, or father Stone is the main stone in the layout. It should be the largest and most beautiful stone and have a striking character and form. The primary stone should be around 2/3 the height of the aquarium as this ratio appeals to the human eye as explained by the theory of The Golden Ratio, otherwise known as the Rule of Two Thirds which is used in all art forms from painting to aquascaping. For more information on the golden ratio, please read the article in the free aquascaping library on the green machine’s website.
As you can see here, the primary stone should be tilted slightly (rather than standing bolt upright) to represent the flow of the water and create a more natural look. In Japanese gardens the stones do stand upright but because when we are aquascaping we are recreating underwater worlds, the stone should be tilted – if the stone were in a river it would naturally be tilted because of the force of the water flow. By tilting the primary stone a more natural and beautiful effect is achieved.
This secondary stone should be the second largest and is placed on either the left or the right hand side of the primary stone. The secondary stone should be a similar texture and the same type of stone as the primary stone.
This tertiary stone is placed next to the primary stone, along with the secondary stone. The tertiary stone plays an important role in the flow of the Iwagumi by bolstering the strength of the primary stone or accentuating its presence. It is therefore vital to the overall balance of the layout, and its importance should not be underestimated.
The sacrificial stone is a small stone that does not stand out in its own right, and may even become hidden by plants over time. Sacrificial stones can be omitted from the aquascape if you are creating a Sanzon Iwagumi, which has a more striking presence, but sacrificial stones add an element of subtlety, intricacy and complexity to the Iwagumi.
11.02 Once all the stones have been placed and the substrate has been secured with substrate supports, james makes any final delicate adjustments with a paint brush before spraying the aquasoil with water. The glass is then cleaned for the purposes of filming, although it is a good idea to clear the glass anyway to ensure that you can see what you are doing properly when you check on the overall display.
Now planting can start. Good aquascaping tools are vital for planting an aquarium – they reduce any potential damage caused to the plant roots during the planting process and allos plants to be placed precisely, accurately and easily.
Aquatic plants can soften the visual impact of the stones, so they can be used to create a harmonious balance within the aquascape. Low growing plants can be used to accentuate the details of a rock arrangement. Planting low growing plants in between the rocks or next to them is critical to enhance the natural effect, but make sure to use low growing plants that will not obscure the structure of your Iwagumi. Suggested plants include Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’, Eleocharis parvula (hair grass), Eleocharis acicularis and Glossostigma elatinoides to name but a few.
Higher growing plants such as Eleocharis vivipara can be used in the background of an Iwagumi to add depth and intricacy to the scape if desired.
To fill the aquarium without disturbing the layout, james uses some plastic wrapping and newspaper to protect the layout before gently and carefully filling the aquarium with water.
To summarise, the basic steps to create an iwagumi layout are;
1) First, create the substrate layer. Substrate additives and power sand are not essential but they are recommended if your budget can accommodate them. For a traditional Iwagumi, lay an even layer of substrate across the floor of the aquarium. More substrate will be added after the stones have been placed. But if you want a more complex and varied Iwagumi, like the one james has created here, then the substrate can be layed more thickly at the back or corners of the aquarium.
2) Next, place the main stone in accordance with the Golden Ration or Rule of Two Thirds – so the stone should be about 2/3 the height of the aquarium and placed at a point that is about about 2/3 the width of the aquarium.
3) Then arrange the remaining rocks in descending order of size, placing the largest first and the smallest last. Pay attention to the balance of the angles of the rocks to help you place the stones.
4) When you have a layout that you are happy with (and this may take a couple of attempts!), it is best to leave the aquarium for a day or two so you can consider the layout for a while.
5) Finish the layout by using a cup or container to carefully pour more substrate over it to mound the substrate naturally. Let the substrate flow naturally between the stones. Finish with a layer of Aqua Soil Powder for a fine effect. Read more about Aqua Soil powder in our free online aquascaping library.
25.19 Once the planting is complete james makes a final check to ensure the overall balance of the layout and planting, removes any debris floating on the surface of the aquarium or from under the water and then fills the aquarium to the top. The aquarium cannot be filled properly before this stage because otherwise it would overflow whenever you put your hand into the water.
27.12 the ADA solar I White is turned on. And james applies the ada aqua screen in clear green to the back of the aquarium. This is relatively easy and simple to do and does not damage the aquarium or cause any permanent effect. It simply uses water to attach to the back of the aquarium. Aqua screens are available in green, clear green, blue, clear blue and black and provide a welcome opportunity for experimentation. James chose green to compliment and contrast the red colour of the sado-akadama stone he has used, in the typical pop art style.
30.23 three months after planting the aquascape has grown in well and you cans ee for yourself the quality of the system used.
31.13 five months later the tank has fully matured: the plants are grown in and the original vision of a pop art inspired nature aquarium can be seen.