Minimalism Within the Planted Tank

When presented with a fantastic catalogue of coloured pictures and photographs of plants it is easy to become carried away with the huge choice available and to end up with a somewhat cluttered look in the tank.

This may be very effective in a ‘jungle’ style aquascape but in many other styles, such as the simpler Iwagumi layout, a cleaner less cluttered style of planting works very well indeed. Obviously certain plants gel well together, and different patterns, textures and colours may be represented in the aquarium just as they are in nature.

One example of this would be the use of just Eleocharis parvula and Utricularia graminifolia whilst highlighting just one area of the tank with something a little taller such as Vallisneria nana or Blyxa japonica. As seen in this photograph:

The Green Machine Iwagumi Display Tank photo
Therefore the first decision to make is whether you would like a more complex Jungle style Nature Aquarium, or a very simple Iwagumi style Nature Aquarium, or something in between. If you are new to aquscaping, starting with a more simple Iwagumi style layout is a good way to get impressive results with relative ease. You can read more about Iwagumi’s in our article Iwagumi aquascapes: An Introduction.  Minimal aquascapes have high, instant artisitc impact and can be very rewarding to plant.

Guidelines to Achieve a Beautiful Minimal Aquascape

  • If you decide to opt for a minimalist Nature Aquarium, the main thing to remember is to strictly limit your choice of plants to no more than three species and to stick to this choice.
  • Colour and texture are obviously important considerations, so make these important issues in your final decision in planting.
  • Once you have decided on the vision that you have for the tank, do not be side-tracked from your original goal, it may seem monotonous working with so few species but that very starkness you create will have a beauty all of its own. Think of a simple yellow dune in the dessert set against the blue sky, or the silhouette of a tree in moonlight as comparisons.

Creating Perspective with your Choice of Livestock and Hardscape

The aim of an aquascape of this nature is to create the illusion of a large space within what is really a small space, and remember that the final choice of livestock should reflect this concept.

  • Large fish will make a tank look smaller, whereas a shoal of small fish will open it up and create the illusion that it is larger.
  • It is also advisable to go with the ‘less is more’ approach with livestock: one large shoal can have far more impact than several mixed species and in nature would be more the norm.
  • The use of just one species of fish can further enhance the minimalist style of the overall planting effect.
  • The hardscape used in a scape of this nature should be bold, creating a graphic image which will contrast with the simplicity of the planting.


There are no real hard and fast rules here and experimentation may bring unexpected success. Remember, when creating an aquascape we are creating a work of art.  As the artist the choice of materials with which we work is of the utmost importance in achieving our original concept of planting and our final goal.

If we plant a mixed bag of plants within our  we aquarium will have just that growing within it – a mixed bag of plants.

Choice is the artist’s friend and this type of minimalist work is only possible where the artist has full control over the species planted.

The minimal aquascape may be simple, but when established it can carry all the grandeur of the Himalayas or the Arizona desert.  In the setting of one’s own home it will bring endless hours of meditative pleasure.

Like this article?  Other aquatic articles by The Green Machine that you might enjoy are;

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