James Findley’s latest Aquascape ‘Reciprocity’ which measures a huge 305cm x 61cm x 61cm (approx. 1200 Litres)- come and see it progress in The Green Machine, Wrexham, UK! Livestock includes: 125 x Rasbora Merah, 80 x Black/Purple Harlequin Rasbora, 100 x Blue Line Rasbora, 20 x Botia sidthimunki, 50 x Rasbora kubotai, 60 x Rasbora espei, 45 x Emerald Eye Rasbora (Rasbora dorsiocellata), 70 x Amano Shrimp (Caridina Japonica). Mainly small species were chosen to make the aquascape seem even bigger!
Many thanks to professional aquascaper James Findley, creator of Reciprocity and Nature’s Chaos (among many others) and founder of The Green Machine. You can see more of James’ work throughout our website- as well as browse and shop for all his favourite aquascaping materials, tools and equipment. You can meet James in The Green Machine where he provides friendly consultations, help and advice to aquascapers of all levels.
The above video documents the process from empty aquarium to fully grown in 12 week old Nature Aquarium layout. This video is only 42 minutes long but the actual process took approximately 9 hours for substrate and hardscape and a further 9 hours for planting. James created the layout while The Green Machine was open for business, so lucky customers who called in on these days had a chance to watch it come together.
Aquarium – 305cm x 61cm x 61cm high (approximately) TGM all acrylic aquarium
14.35 James now adds the smaller, more decorative pieces of stone to the layout. These stones will be less visible in the final layout: they will merely be glimpsed through the plants but they are an important addition to the layout because they add a natural complexity and direction to the layout Leaving small gaps between the stones allows you to plant in between the stones. James finds that this helps to create a feeling of great age within the aquarium, as though the plants have grown in over a long period of time.
15.26 James now completes the other end of the aquarium layout. The Main stone has already been added as it needed to be placed in the layout in order to obtain the overall balance and framework for the layout. James then adds the Second stone, or mother stone and then proceeds to place the remaining stones. As explained earlier, each end of this aquarium essentially contains an Iwagumi layout that looks beautiful on its own, but James has also been careful to ensure that both ends work together as one whole.
16.25 Here you can see the delicate and unique structure of the Manten Stone, especially if you are watching this video in full high definition.
16.50 Notice how James continually stands back to check the overall balance of the layout, as well as the balance of each grouping. It is vital that both ends of this layout work together to create a feeling of balance and reciprocity.
17.16 When creating this signature style of James’, in which the corners of the substrate are banked up so highly, it is essential to support the substrate sufficiently, otherwise when the water is added to the aquarium the substrate will simply roll down into the middle of the aquarium and the layout will be destroyed. James uses the Green Machine’s substrate supports which he developed for this very purpose so they work particularly well. When using these substrate supports, place the stones into position first and then inset the supports into any precarious areas. The supports act like small dams and should be placed in any areas that look like they may collapse when the water is added. You can use stones to support the substrate, but James has found that the stones are more difficult to work with because they take up a much larger area so they are more restricting – he explains that he would not be able to create this aquascape using stones as the supports. In addition to that, they allow for planting in a larger area and allow the plants to grow better. All in all, they allow for more creativity to be used and better plant growth. They are also a more economical choice than stones. You can find The Green Machines full range of extensive aquascaping tools as well as a whole library of very useful tips and techniques at www.thegreenmachineonline.com. James then pours some Aqua Soil Powder over the substrate. This adds more height to the aquascape. James chose to use the powder type because he prefers the aesthetic look of the smaller granules and fins it easier to plant into because it has a greater suction-type effect on the roots of the plantlets. It is also ideal for carpeting plants and grasses as it allows their roots to grip the granules of the powder more easily which increases the survival and initial growth rate of the plants, making for a more successful Nature Aquarium.
19.26 James uses a paintbrush to smooth the substrate and to ensure that the area where he will place the cosmetic sand is free from substrate. Next, James pours the sand into place, without using any dividers. He finds that it is sometimes easier to startr it this way, as long as you have a steady hand and a good eye! James has chosen a light coloured sand so that it will lift the aquascape, adding an element of brightness to the layout. This is because the light colour of the sand reflects a high level of light. James then places some substrate supports between the sand and the substrate, as this will prevent the plants from creeping into the sandy area.
21.05 Here you can see Nature’s Chaos still looking beautiful! You can see the video of ‘The Making of Nature’s Chaos’ on The Green Machine’s You Tube Channel.
21.54 James has chosen to use Staurogyne Repens and here you can see how some plantlets were prepared from cuttings taken from Nature’s Chaos, although even more were needed! James chose Staurogyne repens because he wanted a carpeting plant to create a high impact in the aquarium. He adds that Hemianthus Callitrichoides Cuba would perhaps be the most obvious choice, but he knows from his aquascaping experience that Cuba can tend to lift up after some time because it has shallow roots. In smaller aquariums this is not really a problem, but James knows from previous experience, particularly from his work entitled ‘Fallen Tree’ which was done in this very aquarium, that in large tanks like this Cuba can be very difficult to maintain. James chose Staurogyne repens because it has deeper roots and will not lift. (22.42) James adds some water to the aquarium to make it easier to plant into the substrate, and uses good quality aquascaping pinsettes. If you want a beautiful planted aquarium, it is essential to use good quality plants from a reputable, specialist retailer. Do not opt for a mixed box of plants because this will not allow you to use the artistic licence and creativity required to create a beautiful nature aquarium. Good quality, rooted plants are worth investing in: poor quality plants with small roots do not have a good survival rate, which will cost you more money in the long run and will lead to frustration and disappointment. (23.23)
23.51 Here you can see how the powder type of substrate allows for easier planting as it has a greater suction effect on the plantlets.
24.20 With the addition of the green plants, the nature aquarium finally begins to come alive. When planting in this way, in a minimal style using many of the same plant, patience is required, particularly in an aquarium this large – but stick with it as it will be well worth it in the end! A beautiful carpet of staurogyne repens extending into the distance has a very high impact. As you can see, the correct plant preparation is vital. There are different methods of preparation for different types of plants and it is essential to get the right technique. To see some videos on plant preparation techniques, look at The Green Machine’s You Tube Channel, or visit their website. For these cuttings of staurogyne repens, the bottom leaves are carefully removed and the plantlet stem is then placed into the substrate. Roots will develop from where the leaves have been removed. Some potted specimens of staurogyne repens were also used later in this aquascape. (25.05)
26.20 Here is an example of a good quality, potted specimen of staurogyne repens. Notice the healthy, bright green colour of the leaves and the healthy roots. There are no worrying signs on this plant, like dead leaves, blackened stems or decaying portions of the plant.
27.10 Filling a large aquarium like this is a slow process, so James instructs his assistants to begin filling it now. A dish is placed inside the aquarium to prevent the water from disturbing the layout.
28.20 Here you can see the planting process sped up to lightening speed!
28.43 Now James plants the Echinodorus Vesuvius. James chose this plant for its beautiful leaf shape and because he wanted to create some height in the aquarium, but did not want the plant to grow all the way to the top of the tank. When choosing your plants it is important to bear in mind how they grow, otherwise your maintenance will be fighting against the natural growth f the plants, rather than working with it. Echinodorous Vesuvius sends off runners that can be trimmed off and easily re-planted.
29.18 The surface of the water is skimmed with a wet and dry vacuum to take off any surface debris.
29.38 Next, James plants Hydrocotle Tripartica ‘Japan’. He explains that hydrocotle species work well when planted in between stones as they form a stunning cascade and create a wild, forest like appearance. James describes how Hydrocotle tripatica japan is probably the smallest of the hydrocotle species and will carpet very densely . He adds that this dense carpeting effect can be accentuated by pressing flatly down on the plant during weekly maintenance. James adds that this plant is quite difficult to separate into recognisable rooted pieces for planting, but do not worry: because this species roots from the stem, pieces can just be pressed into the substrate and they will grow in readily.
29.56 Then James plants Echinodorus Tenellus which he likes to use as a transitional plant between the shorter stem plants and carpeting plants and grasses, and the taller plant species in the background. James uses this plant near the edges of the stones to feather and soften the edges, creating amore natural look. You can read more about working with carpeting plants and grasses at www.thegreenmachineonline.com
30.10 Notice how the green of the plants really compliments the purple in the Manten Stone.
32.40 James checks that the progression of the plants from the low to the high areas of the tank is to his satisfaction, bearing in mind how the plants will naturally grow in. Then he decides to add some more Staurogyne repens to increase the planting density.
32.56 James prepares some potted specimens of Staurogyne repens for planting. A good pair of aquascaping pinsettes is essential to avoid damaging the plant.
34.50 Here you can see where James has placed some Riccardia chamedrifolia, which is a stunning, small liverwort that works very well in nano aquariums because it has a unique, small growth pattern. James pushes the mesh onto the stone by bending it into shape. Once the moss has grown onto the stone, the mesh can be removed and placed onto another area of stone to grow more. Riccardia Chamedrifolia is a very slow growing plant but, once it is established, it creates beautiful cushions of greenery that are worth waiting for.
37.05 Here you can see the directional theme of the layout, and the reciprocal relationship between the two ends of the layout.
37.18 Now the aquascape has grown in it has really come to life: the carpet of staurogyne repens creates a lush, green, richness without detracting from the impact of the stones. Notice how the smaller stones used are barely visible underneath the plants, but add an element of natural complexity to the layout, whilst the light sand adds an almost dream-like brightness that draws the eye in. Most importantly, notice how the two ends of the layout work beautifully together to create a calming feeling of balance and reciprocation. ((37.53) the health and vitality of the plants are a testament to James’ talent as an aquascaper and the skills of the maintenance team at The Green Machine – the bubbles of oxygen rising up from them show their health and vitality. James used a Custom CO2 kit by The Green Machine, two metal halide lights and a specialist fertiliser to create the optimum conditions for plant growth. The healthy plants also demonstrate the quality of the substrate system used.
In a nature aquarium the fish are the finishing touch: they add movement, colour and diversity to the aquascape. James chose to add purple harlequins, emerald eye rasboras, rasbora hengeli, blue line rasboras and rasbora merah, otocinculus affinis, botia sidthimunki. James uses small fish in his nature aquariums as this increases the sense of scale and adds to the overall impact of the layout. As you can see, the nature aquarium is the perfect environment for fish as it is the closest to nature, and fish in these aquarium srarely need to be medicated. For more information, or to view more videos like this please visit www.thegreenmachineonline .com and subscribe to The Green Machine’s YouTube channel. You can also find the Green Machine on Twitter and Facebook.
Video Transcript (for 1 year old video)
Welcome back to The Green machine, the Nature Aquarium Specialists.
This short video gives an update of one James Findley’s aquascapes. James is a professional aquascaper and the founder of The Green Machine.
This work was entitled ‘Reciprocity’ by James to reflect the concept of the layout: the way in which each end of the aquascape is beautifully balanced with the alternate end to create a perfect ambience: a reciprocal relationship in which each end works in harmony with the other to create a perfect whole.
The layouts at either end of this aquarium would look stunning on their own, in a smaller layout, but it is the way that they work together, reflecting each other without competing for attention, clashing, or detracting from one another that makes this layout so effective.
This layout is essentially an Iwagumi layout: a layout in which stone is the sole, or primary hardscape material used. For an Iwagumi layout, the stone placement is crucial, because this forms the bones of the layout, or the basic framework. If the stone work is done well, the rest of the layout will come together naturally and have a beautiful balance and atmospheric appearance. In the video ‘The Making of Reciprocity, by James Findley’, you can see the stone work being laid out by James, with full commentary about the techniques involved in creating a stunning layout.
James used Manten Stone in this layout because of its interesting form, vibrant colours and dramatic impact. The deep purple hews of the Manten Stone contrast well with the bright green plants James chose to use.
The carpeting plant is Staurogyne Repens. James describes how the obvious choice for a layout like this would be Hemianthus Cuba, but adds that because Cuba has a tendency to lift, he has found it difficult to work with in aquariums of this size. Staurogyne repens has deeper roots that are more secure and do not lift, making it an easier plant to maintain in an aquarium of this size. In smaller aquariums, however, Hemianthus Cuba is a stunning and manageable plant when cared for correctly.
2.14 you can see how healthy the plants are in this layout, which is a testament to the skills and knowledge of James and the technical team at The Green Machine, as well as to the quality of the set up. When James established the Green Machine, he wanted it to be an aquascaper’s paradise, so he decided that it would only sell what it had tried, tested and tried again! This mantra still holds true today and you can see from the quality of this aquascape that The Green Machine Team are truly experts in their field, who can offer practical, working advice of everything in store.
2.55 From this angle you can see the vast, three metre expanse of this layout sweeping into the distance. You might notice how James has banked up the diametrically opposed corners of the layout in order to emphasis this effect, and highlight the overall concept of the aquascape. In order to achieve this, James used some Substrate Supports that he developed for this purpose – the substrate supports prevent the substrate from rolling down over time, but do not interfere with the growth of the plant roots. This can also be achieved by using stones to create height and sure up the substrate, but stones have a large surface area which can be detrimental to the growth of the plant roots, as well as being a relatively costly way to secure the substrate.
3.42 James used a bright sandy area as a focal point in the layout. The sand is highly reflective so it adds an element of light to the layout. Using light and dark in a layout adds an element of complexity and natural intrigue: the most effective layouts are conscious of these natural elements and use them to their maximum artistic impact. The light sand draws the eye into the layout and creates a beautiful contrast between the dark stone and the bright green of the Staurogyne repens.
4.24 From this distance, you can appreciate the reciprocal equilibrium of the layout. You might even notice how the bright sandy area draws the eye into the layout, capturing its attention, before the natural balance of the layout draws it around the entire aquascape, from the dark stones to the lighter plants around them, and then back to the mid ground again.
Now that the aquascape has grown in, you can see how the intricacy of the aquascape makes it so much more beautiful, even when viewed from a distance. And notice how the aquascape looks stunning from all angles, which is an unusual artistic challenge for most aquascapers, but always necessary in an aquarium that is viewable from all sides.
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