Visit to The Netherlands

Posted by on Nov 15, 2011 in All Categories, Travel | 0 comments

Visit to The Netherlands

Here are some good examples of Dutch Style planted tanks which I collected for a presentation. Jaap Liefting, a member of the NBAT kindly took me along on a trip visiting three experienced aquarists in Holland. All aquaria are set up according to the NBAT rules for “Gezelschapsaquaria” (community tanks). If readers have sufficient command of Dutch, here is a compendium of the rules.

When we speak of Dutch tanks, we usually refer to fully planted tanks. In Holland, there are many more aspects to what a proper community tank is. Lush plant growth is actually a given. Planting is a major factor in judging aquaria in Holland with lots of rules stipulating many aspects of it but planting is only one part of the whole affair. That is to say that criteria such as development and health of fish, composition and balance of invertebrates as well as equipment and safety play a major role and are as important as the planting itself.

The aquaria were not at their absolute prime at the time of photographing because the nation-wide show, where the final champion is chosen from the winning contestants of the district shows, was to be two weeks later. Some of the tanks had been prepared for the show by replanting short cuttings. All aquaria were evidently the work of skilful and experienced hobbyists.

Jaques de Jong

Our first host was Jaques de Jong. Jaques was actually tipped as the possible next national champion. The aquarium sits in the living room and, as is custom in Holland, is housed in a self-constructed cabinet, integrating perfectly with the living room furniture.

Jaques de Jong

Jaques de Jong

The close-up shows a very well balanced tank with a little “street” of Lobelia cardinalis “Mini” and an opposing street of plain gravel, divided by a group of Cryprocoryne x willisii.
Jaques’ choice of plants consists of run-of-the-mill species but the result is truly captivating. The green tiger lotus to the right adds a beautiful accent with its leaf stems aptly concealed by some bog wood. The Taxiphyllum moss growing on the wood is shade-tolerant and, by virtue of its own dark colour, does not add to much brightness to the shady spot, thus providing maximum contrast.
The Blyxa aubertii also provides some exciting contrast with the lotus.

Dutch aquarium detail

Aquarium detail

Some red spots are created on the left by Ludwigia aff. glandulosa. and, in the background, by Rotala rotundifolia and by Ammania gracilis to the right.
Bacopa caroliniana again makes for a warm accent.
A typical feature of Dutch tanks are some slender plants framing the layout. Their purpose is to divert the eye from the corners. Commonly, on one side, a trailing shape is used and a slender or ribbon-like plant on the opposing side.

Here, Myriophyllum aquaticum and Vallisneria spiralis were placed. You can also observe another technique used by the Dutch: It is a popular design feature to allow an inch of space to set individual groups apart.

Bart Laurens

This 3m tank is built into an attic space and sits among a substantial collection of (Indonesian?) wooden sculptures. I am sure this tank would be a dream for a lot of aquarists and it must have taken some determination to devote a whole wall to this beautiful tank. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask Bart how he got it up there.

Bart Laurens' aquarium

Bart Laurens

The planting is bordered by some extensive foreground planting. Bacopa monnieri “Type 2″ had just been replanted. Any one who has ever done this knows how much meticulous work this implies. There was also one quite impressive and healthy group of Hygrophila balsamica, which was planted continually rising towards the back.

Hygrophila balsamica

Hygrophila balsamica

Of course, Lobelia cardinalis “Mini” was present. I must admit that this is probably the most suitable species for the “Dutch Street”. Regrettably, Saururus cernuus, the first plant ever to be used for a Dutch Street, is now rarely to be seen. Allegedly, in modern aquariums with lots of equipment, it simply grows too big. (BTW the first ever Street was shown at an aquarium exhibition in Leiden many years ago, which is why this plant is known as “leidseplantje” in Holland)

There was a lovely specimen of Echinodorus horizontalis in the far right corner of this tank. This Echinodorus only grows to a medium height and is much slower compared to most other Amazon Swords, making it a valuable Echinodorus for modern aquariums.

Bart also has a great web site!

Johan van de Werve

This aquarium provides the main focus in the living room. It is a remarkable aquarium, both technically and aesthetically. A superb Nymphaea micrantha was used as an eye-catching specimen, offset with a striking group of Limnophila aromatica. A Street was made up of -you guessed it- Lobelia cardinalis but another, less steep one was formed of Blyxa japonica. The rare but extremely beautiful Ottelia ulvaefolia is not available commercially, not even at Extraplant. Due to its exceptionally brittle leaves it cannot be transported easily by mail and is hence only swapped among hobbyists.
This aquarium is framed by a Gymnocoronis spilanthoides on the left and a wall of Taxyphyllum barbieri opposite.

Johan van de Werve's aquarium

Johan van de Werve

Both the cabinet and the aquarium proper are self-built. A noteworthy feature is that only the front of the tank is actually made of glass. The sides and back are laminated wood – something I had never heard of before. Additionally, the tank is trapezoid, getting wider towards the back. The result is an extraordinary depth and practically invisible corners. The heavy lid is supported by two gas-loaded springs. There are two groups of three T8 lights, overlapping in the centre. This makes for a very bright spot there. Some Blyxa cf. vietii seems to be enjoying the light.


Starke Beleuchtung ist das Geheimnis des Holländischen Pflanzenaquariums

Since this aquarium is mostly viewed in a sitting position, it is built quite low. This obviously created some spacial problems for its maker as there was not much room left for the equipment. NBAT rules stipulate strict guidelines for safety and point deductions will ensue for anything makeshift. Hence the equipment was conveniently placed below floor level underneath the tank’s cabinet.



Filter, CO2 diffuser and even a reverse osmosis unit all disappear beneath the cabinet proper.

I’m preparing to join the NBAT myself soon to submit my own aquarium to a home-show. Luckily, Enschede is only a stone-throw away from where I live and hopefully, I’ll find a district club who will accept me as a member and send some judges my way some time.

The Dutch style is slowly becoming an endangered species. In the 80s, the NBAT had over 30,000 members but membership now has shrunk to about 3,200. I think that’s still a lot but most younger hobbyists now turn to the Nature Aquarium style. Partly, that’s understandable as much smaller tanks can be used and everything is allowed. Still, it would be a shame if the Dutch was to sink into oblivion only because it is considered as antiquated and kind of square.

Thanks to all who let me photograph their tanks, first and foremost Jaap Liefting, who introduced me and without whom I would never have seen these beautiful aquaria!

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