Sand/stone only hardscapes - no soil

Andrew Butler

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I'm on a journey of simplifying things for myself and would like to keep a planted aquarium with fish but find a balance where the hardscape can do most of the talking and just adding in a few slow growers is my aim. I'd prefer for it to be sand and stone only and as it happens I really like the look when I have seen it done right, however I've also seen some very bad attempts at it. I'm not of a naturally artistic mind which is quite a stumbling point and neither does Aquascaping come naturally to me so without pointing me in the direction of the more obvious ones is anyone able to offer any suggestion, with instruction/demonstration even better!

I've a good stack of Frodo stone but it's mainly large pieces which if I were just to smash would break the wrong way if you understand what I mean? - they are tall and if I were to smash them I would end up with narrow/tall pieces instead of wider/shorter pieces which is what I would want.

I've an aquarium 900 x 500 x 450mm (LxWxH) which will be viewed from the front/left and have a built in filtration section added on the right end with the weir/overflow at the front and the return at the back of this section.

Just a few photos to give you an idea of what I have and comparison in a mock tank with above measurements.

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alto

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I don’t know how often you’ve watched this video (or if you were able to watch the livestream)
(it’s a shame that all 6 scape videos were not made available (vlog style), I believe George had the completed scapes on his channel for voting)


I think it’s a good challenge to set for yourself - scape those rocks every few days :)
Maybe set a goal of a complete new scape every week, with some adjustments during the between days

For the sort of stone/sand scape you’ve described, you need a good assortment of smashed stone as well (as seen in the video) to give the stone formation a more natural appearance (within the confines of the aquarium)

(obviously) Oliver Knott, Adam Paszczela, Filipe Oliveira, Balbi Vaquero
 

alto

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would like to keep a planted aquarium with fish but find a balance where the hardscape can do most of the talking and just adding in a few slow growers
Unfortunately while ADG does many aquariums in this style, they are sparse on details (& media presentations)

I suspect limited nutrients, soft water method will assist in minimal algae (even with all other components being equal)
 

Andrew Butler

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I don’t know how often you’ve watched this video (or if you were able to watch the livestream)
(it’s a shame that all 6 scape videos were not made available (vlog style), I believe George had the completed scapes on his channel for voting)
I only ever saw this one but have seen it before, Adam is probably the man who I look to the most for this kind of thing but he's a man without much of his own video available. ADA Polska has some great photos around but not too much broken down.
For the sort of stone/sand scape you’ve described, you need a good assortment of smashed stone as well
It's all ready to go. ;)
I think it’s a good challenge to set for yourself - scape those rocks every few days :)
Maybe set a goal of a complete new scape every week, with some adjustments during the between days
I don't think I could commit to this unfortunately and the British weather is turning so my mock tank outside is becoming a bit chilly. :cool:
 

alto

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:lol:

I assumed your mock tank had moved inside for the winter (though I suppose that doesn’t begin for another month :p)

Filipe Oliveira suggests just setting up the hardscape in your tank and playing with it there (being careful of scratches) - I prefer this as lighting can make the scape look very different (as does filling with water), but in terms of just getting to know your specific stones and how they might interact, an open table like in the video is much easier, especially with larger stones (there are several video shorts of Adam’s indoor stone scaping table - he mentions this during the TAOTPA live scaping event ... I can imagine how many hours he spent “learning the stones” )

Every time I watch the video, I notice different aspects of the stones and how they fit/contrast - and that is what makes the alternate scapes so interesting
 

Andrew Butler

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I assumed your mock tank had moved inside for the winter
Problem is it's now wet on the outside so it's either build another or get cold. I had thought about making a 3 sided one; bottom, back and right so I'm still able to see all of my viewing angle
Filipe Oliveira suggests just setting up the hardscape in your tank and playing with it there (being careful of scratches)
This is a very real threat in my opinion and some are really heavy old stones to keep getting in and out although I'm sure final tweaks would be made in the aquarium.
 

Tim Harrison

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I'd prefer for it to be sand and stone only
So essentially you're going for a Iwagumi look.
I've a good stack of Frodo stone
The more stone you have the easier it is to arrive at a scape you like. I think you have some very nice pieces that you should be able to create something pretty awesome with. But I think Adam has the edge with regards stone choice ;)
if I were just to smash would break the wrong way if you understand what I mean?
Don't smash it unless you're very sure what you need. They semi-conchoidal fracture to reveal uninspiring surfaces. For instance, I will break mine for a particular corner that will fill a gap etc but it can pretty much render the rest of the stone useless. However, alto is also right adding broken stone can make the scape look more natural as it represents the natural processes of weathering and erosion and scree formation etc, so it's worth sacrificing some for that. That said a lot of the smaller stuff Adam is adding will be totally lost when the plants start to grow.
I'm on a journey of simplifying things for myself
With that in mind I think you've the right idea. I always challenge myself to use the minimum hardscape to give the impression of naturalness, to distil the essence of nature or what I'm trying to create down to the bare minimum. Plants will do the rest even in a minimally planted Iwagumi style scape. I find that if I get the hardscape right the rest, or the planting, falls in to place quite easily.
 

Andrew Butler

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So essentially you're going for a Iwagumi look.
This is a stumbling point as I see it as I don't intend it to conform with any of the rules that Iwagumi places on you so I guess it could be leaning more towards diorama?
Don't smash it unless you're very sure what you need. They semi-conchoidal fracture to reveal uninspiring surfaces. For instance, I will break mine for a particular corner that will fill a gap etc but it can pretty much render the rest of the stone useless. However, alto is also right adding broken stone can make the scape look more natural as it represents the natural processes of weathering and erosion and scree formation etc, so it's worth sacrificing some for that. That said a lot of the smaller stuff Adam is adding will be totally lost when the plants start to grow.
I know if I've any cutting of stone the large part would include cutting instead of smashing then giving it a natural looking edge if it does not follow one - this is something I think I can do easily enough, arranging them on the other hand is a different matter!
With that in mind I think you've the right idea. I always challenge myself to use the minimum hardscape to give the impression of naturalness, to distil the essence of nature or what I'm trying to create down to the bare minimum. Plants will do the rest even in a minimally planted Iwagumi style scape. I find that if I get the hardscape right the rest, or the planting, falls in to place quite easily.
I'm happy to use a larger amount of hardscape if I can make it look good enough. I think Adam and maybe Aquaman on some projects have showed some good examples although quite how they execute them is quite a mystery. The hardscape is what I know I will struggle with but any guidance here or pointers towards some is most welcome. :)
 

Andrew Butler

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If it makes any difference I know I can stabilise the larger stones at the base using some products used in reefing which follow a similar colour or even stick stones together providing the shape carries through enough to disguise the joint.
 

Tim Harrison

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This is a stumbling point as I see it as I don't intend it to conform with any of the rules that Iwagumi places on you so I guess it could be leaning more towards diorama?
Rules are meant to be broken ;) I guess these days Iwagumi can just as well mean any rock dominated scape, rather than in the purist sense of Japanese Zen or stone gardens...

Not one of mine but from Tobias' Aquasabi website.

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I think Adam and maybe Aquaman on some projects have showed some good examples although quite how they execute them is quite a mystery.
I think if you observe the way they use the stone, they pretty much let it do the work. That is once you start to work with stone you'll find, or you may have already found, that it will slot together naturally in one or two ways, almost like it naturally formed that way before it was broken up for use in your aquarium. I usually allow myself to be guided by that; the stone always comes up with far better scapes than I could alone.

I guess stone masons and dry wallers use a very similar principle. Essentially working with the material as much as possible. In my case it's in the blood, I come from a long line of stone masons ;) And I guess it's one of the main reasons, at least for me, why having a lot of stone to choose from makes scaping a lot easier.

For instance, I let the rock do the work in this hardscape; none were broken or cut...

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I also tend to choose stone that is multifaceted, i.e. has more than one or two interesting sides, so it works in several ways, giving me more options, and again making the creative process easier.

If it makes any difference I know I can stabilise the larger stones at the base using some products used in reefing which follow a similar colour or even stick stones together providing the shape carries through enough to disguise the joint.
I know Amano placed the stones in first and then the substrate, but that's just one way of working. Another, as I am sure you're aware, is to place the substrate in first and then position the rocks in that. In your case, since you're using sand alone, I think it'd perhaps be the best approach. Its an easy way of providing initial stability which in turn gives you far more options with regards stone placement and height etc. But for it to work you really need to use a lot of sand. Using this technique also makes it easy to use substrate to "hide" joints and make the scape look more natural. Plants can be used to similar effect as well.

I used that techniques in this scape. It's also an example of how I try to use minimum hardscape to achieve a natural effect and how I try to let the stones guide me with regards placement. Sorry for using my own video, fast forward to about 1 min.


Nigel's Mountain scape journal also has some good tips, especially for bonding rocks with cigarette filters and superglue etc.


But the best advice I can give you is, above all else have fun...:)
 

Andrew Butler

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Rules are meant to be broken ;) I guess these days Iwagumi can just as well mean any rock dominated scape, rather than in the purist sense of Japanese Zen or stone gardens...
I'm all for breaking rules but last time I put some stones together I had lectures about not following rules so didn't want to call this an iwagumi. :stop:
I let the rock do the work in this hardscape; none were broken or cut.
A lot of the rocks are just too thick but I think by cutting them to thin them out they'd be of more use to me.
I need to see if I can get them to work in a different way to what I had thought but they're simply quite large in the main.
I'd like to keep sand minimal too
 

Andrew Butler

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@alto @Tim Harrison we are almost 6 months since the last posting from me and I've made zero progress!
It does hopefully give me the opportunity to once again get the stone back outside and have a play around - I'm in no rush and it will be done when it's done.
I want to make a few changes to the filtration anyway; the tank is running with the contents from the other tanks whilst other changes are being made with this more simple, easier to maintain aquarium household.

I've been pondering over sand/stone alone; whether this is a good direction or maybe realistic one in terms of plant choice and a balanced system also comes to mind, do either of you have opinion? (or anyone else)
 

Tim Harrison

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No plants?

I guess it'd be fine, just a question of fish load and filter capacity to keep the system balanced.
An alternative would be to just use easy plants and try and emulate Andy's style here. His blog is a great source of info, I think he even has a how to section.
 

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Hi @Andrew Butler I run a sand and stone only scape and the maintenance is much less than with soil the plant choice is a little less but you can still have some awesome results
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in tems of maintenance I brush the rocks and hover the sand change water clean glass once a month excuse the pic the tripartita has over grown since last maintained 3 weeks ago
 

Andrew Butler

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No plants?
Ah - I'd like to add some of those, oh and some fish with friends so that's a given from now on!

Just trying to think cosmetic sand with stone and making that work; maybe a little ambitious or just not look right. wood or adding a soil section maybe.
A photo Adam Paszczela shared with me last year I quite like the overall feel of but I guess plants would change it all in a big way
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Andrew Butler

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I run a sand and stone only scape and the maintenance is much less than with soil the plant choice is a little less but you can still have some awesome results
Thanks for that @Jayefc1 - very helpful. did you start the system from scratch or add in some mature media?
How do you find the sand for blowing around and what is it?
 

Tim Harrison

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I guess plants do change it, but you can still plant to enhance the rock hardscape. This one of Andy's mainly uses moss, anubias and buces and a few crypts to pretty stunning effect. It's what I was talking about before.

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Ady34

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I believe it is fully achievable, with or without plants, just sand and stone as a framework can work. In my opinion it then becomes more about lighting the less plant mass you have.
My current tank is just sand stone (and wood) with epiphyte plants, no soil. You will be looking at a longer term, lower maintenance system and I believe lighting is the key. Use less, choose appropriate plants which grow slow and don’t require a lot of light, you can plant densely from the start to achieve a mature look or plant more sparsely. If using less plant mass, maintenance will be greater in the form of water changes as the system matures so I’d buy double the amount of plants you think you will need to create fullness.
If you opt for no plants and hardscape only then lighting is even more important. The less the better. I have done hardscape only without algae and used very limited lighting. You can create a beautiful display of fish and hardscape without intense light. You will though have to consider circulation and potential detritus traps within hardscape so can become complicated, especially with heavy rock dominated scapes which cover substrate and create dead spots. Wood is an easier choice for no plants imo as substrate contact points can remain minimal. ADG do this very well but like you say there aren’t a huge amount of detailed installation guides. One thing you will also notice is that they don’t tend to use huge amounts of rock in non planted tanks....this will likely be due to ease of maintenance and the reasons stated above. Unless hard water cichlids are the fish, then lots of rock alone is more tricky and involved to maintain long term.
With either option I would try to build from the base of the tank directly. This way there are no dead areas in substrate under the rocks. You can also judge the visuals of the rocks form the sand line. You will likely utilise the minimum amount of sand so you need to ensure the rocks look good from the base. There is also less chance of rock movement and it is easy to replace the sand substrate and clean it if the hardscape is on the tank base for the same reason.
One thing I would suggest is to decide upon what composition you would like to start with; like an island, triangular composition etc. Try to visualise what you are trying to achieve as it makes choosing each rock for the hardscape easier.

You have an epic rock selection and I have to say I am envious of that collection......
Good luck.
 
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Tim Harrison

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Good advice Ady from one who knows. Like you say lighting is likely to be the critical issue. In low light tanks fish choice is also something that perhaps needs consideration too. Fish that are found in blackwater habitats or fish with day glow colours like cardinals, or glowlights would stand out really well and maybe be a good choice, for instance.
You have an epic rock selection and I have to say I am envious of that collection......
I'm very envious of that rock collection too, I think it's Adam Paszczela's :cool:
 

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