The Planted Aquarium Market Today...

The Planted Aquarium Market Today...


I thought I would write a post from a different angle in order to stimulate more responses from hobbyists. I used to be an avid aquascaper, producing aquascapes regularly in order to improve my skills. Today I have a lot less time to be aquascaping even though that is what my business revolves around (kind of ironic isn't it?!).

Most of my time is taken up dealing with the everyday running of the business, providing advice and assistance to customers and ordering goods, sourcing new products etc. But I'm trying to make a bit more time in my day so I can dip my arm back into the water and start scaping. I've even got a brand new ADA tank and cabinet which sits empty and looks very sad at the moment...
But the point of this post is to reach out to you guys and find out what you think of the planted aquarium market today.

Recently the International Aquascaping Contest took place where hobbyists from around the world were invited to send in pictures of their planted aquariums in order for them to be judged and compared to other competitors. Now this is always a great competition and the standard continues to rise every year. I rarely agree with the winners and often think many of the lower ranked scapes are much better but, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (something for another blog post...). But what really got me about the results was the number of British scapers who submitted their aquascapes and were listed in the top 1000 - I could count them on one hand and found that actually quite sad (in a melancholic way). So I've been racking my brains thinking about and wondering why more UK scapers don't actually scape. Perhaps it's one of the below:

  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of skill
  • Lack of inclination
  • Lack of time
  • Lack of money

Is it any of these or is it something else? What I do know is that aquascaping skills are not sufficient and photography skills need to be right at the top too if you're going to win any decent prize. Have a look at top UK Scaper Mark Evans - some of this tanks are truly incredible and he won the top British award. Check this out:

A truly incredible position and rightly deserved too. Mark's photography skill is as impressive as his aquasapes and this helps to enhance his scapes. If his photography skills were not where they were today (and lets say he had a poor quality camera), I wonder how this would have effected his aquascaping? Maybe he would have been forced to discover the art of photography in order to pursue his passion of planted aquarium and maybe that's what more people need to do in the UK...?  Camera technology improves all the time and the price comes down but sometimes if you see the lights and camera equipment involved that Mark uses, it can look rather daunting.

So I asked this same question on Twitter and @pfkeditor tweeted back - Brits like to critise and not get involved. I think there's a lot of truth in that and wondered if that would ever change. In order for us to improve as a nation we have to be more encouraging and less critical. Yes it's easy to criticise particularly sat on your sofa with the laptop next to you. But this isn't helping our unique hobby and we need to be more encouraging to everyone, let people make mistakes and we can all learn together. Lets face it you don't even need that much money to get you going either. You can buy a small tank and maybe 6-7 pots of aquarium plants, lighting, filtration and a CO2 set and you're away. What you do need is drive and determination because if you're going to make a go of it, you'll need lots of drive, you'll have to be able to take criticism and move on.

I would really love to hear what you guys think about this subject. What is is that holds you back. What would make you consider entering competitions and why do you think other hobbyists are a little camera shy?


iain sutherland
iain sutherland

I agree with all of the above completely, but i also believe that our hobby isnt really recognised by the majority in the UK, sure people know aquariums but most havent had the exposure of aquascaping in the same way as in Asia.

I also believe that an aweful lot of people who are in the hobby only have one tank due to finacial or space reasons and as such dont tend to tear down and rescape very often as much as they would like to.

I think the photography arguement is a bit of a lame duck as most people know someone with a good camera and if they dont the local ‘portrait studio’ will come round for an hour for less than £100… or if you dont want to pay pop a sign up at your local college for photography students, they always want something new to snap away at!


I think you’re right there too Iain, the hobby isn’t recognised in the UK. Still today when I talk to people and they ask what I do, they always say “planted what?”

But I think the point about photography is still valid as you rightly point out hobbyists don’t tear down their tanks and start again due to financial reasons. However no one I know has ever consider hiring the local portrait studio for £100 – I think your aquascaping skills have got to be very good to warrant that. After all you can buy a decent SLR for £500 and then use to your hearts content. So this made me think, perhaps we have to become avid photographers in order to pursue our dreams of high calibre planted aquariums?

I think confidence is probably very low in general because inviting students around to take pictures, whilst is a very good idea, may put the aquascaper under a lot of pressure as their tank would literally be under the magnifying glass.

Mark Nicholls
Mark Nicholls

In the UK, we live in a society where we want instant gratification. This is why a hobby like gardening (aquatic AND terrestrial) falls behind other cultures where patience IS a virtue.
There are few people who would consider Bonsai as a hobby because it takes decades to see the result.
You only have to look at the vast number of aquatic products aimed at speeding up plant growth. People will build a tree, covered with Anubias, blast it with excess light, ferts and CO2 and then beg for help cos its covered in algae! All because they were trying to make it grow fast!
We need more patience in this hobby.


Fear of failure is a great point. When we’re kids we have no sense of failure especially from a very young age. Initially no one can walk but babies automatically try. As we get older there are other challenges like tying shoe laces which seem an almost impossible task but your determination gets you through.

then we learn more…

You fall off your bike and you keep trying undeterred and it’s only when some become adults that they stop trying (or at least limit trying) and fear of failure creeps in and can becomes a dominant characteristic. Understanding where that fear comes from is half the battle. With planted aquariums, everyone makes a lot of mistakes – and I mean a lot. There’s so much to learn after all, but is that a problem? Learning how to scape a tank? We try to imitate (nothing wrong with that) but we need to learn at the same time and share problems. Victor on UKAPS is a wonderful example of this. Even though he owns the most impressive aquascaping shop I have ever seen, he’s open to his mistakes, takes pictures and works out publically what he thinks went wrong, and then he tries again and posts more pictures.

I think it would be great if people entered more competitions – the standard would improve as would confidence. It would inspire others too, especially in the UK. George Farmer for example has done wonders for this hobby by keeping it in the public eye.

Regarding UKAPS membership – do you know the stats for sure or is that a punt? If it is only 2000 UK members in the UK, I’d be surprised but would love to know.

Supporting hobbyists is important, I think some specialist shops already do that to a degree. Some might donate but that donation really has to work for the shop. If manufacturers are donating that would be different but at the end of the day, donation normally arrive in the form of sponsorship when the standard is high enough. However, if hobbysists asked, came up with a plan how it would work as a WIN WIN situation then try me! In addition the standard has to be very high – I know Mark Evans has only recently achieved sponsorship from a famous plant grower and his standard is incredible.

What are your thoughts on the above?

Luis Embalo
Luis Embalo

Great article Richard.

So why don’t people enter competitions? Fear of failure I suppose. I was told recently by a very accomplished scaper that I he didn’t have a chance of being on the top 100 he wouldn’t enter. And he did not enter.

Photography skills are important, and also kit. Not so much the camera but the lighting.

Last year I entered, took some puto with a point and shoot and got to position 1600 (I believe). This year I entered and got to position 698. Got a better camera, got better skills and got a flash setup.

But what I think people must understand is that aquascaping I a hobby, it takes practice and patience and not all have the right requisites for it.

I believe that it is not for all to Aquascape and enter competitions. I like it for the challenge, maybe one day I’ll be on the top 100, maybe not, but that is not what drives me. I want to become better at aquascaping and push myself forward at every step back. It is fun!

It would be cool if more people entered competitions but maybe the hobby in the uk still has to grow further.

Ukaps for example has almost 6000 user registered and maybe 2000 are from the uk (or more!) but only 14 people entered the ADA this year, and maybe only 8 are from the forum.

How many will enter AGA and ASE this year? Less than 5 I would suppose.

What can be done? Well, I got a lot of support from planted tanks and dupla. They gave me all the kit I used at vivarium this year, I had to spend money on the hotel and flight, but the shop and supplier supported me all the way.

Aquascaping in the uk is a solitary hobby, egos may play the part with some people, and this does not help newbies to try out and put the neck out there, for fear of ridicule or breaking out from the pack.

I will enter AGA an ASE, will buy all my plants from planted tanks, and will use dupla kit, got to support who helped me.

It would help if the online retailers support a newbie, away from the more accomplished scapers. That would help for sure.

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