Truc Lam

Sophisticated aquascaping and biotopes are elevating home décor. A miniature aquatic and terrestrial biotope is not only a refreshing sight, but also a heat controller and an air filter on a balcony.

Many homeowners seek to incorporate nature into their indoor and outdoor living spaces by adding aquariums and ponds. In this spirit, trends that have been growing in popularity are aquascaping – the craft of arranging aquatic plants, rocks, stones and driftwood – and biotope aquariums, which replicate natural ecosystems for exotic fish, shellfish and plants. Both an outdoor pond with a miniature landscape and an indoor aquarium are high-maintenance. To start with, it is crucial for any hobbyist to figure out a preferred landscaping style. There are three primary types – Japanese, contemporary European and neoclassical – according to Nguyen Ngoc Thang, a professional landscape designer and founder of Green Space. Japanese gardens are all about finesse and simplicity as demonstrated in their use of jagged cliffs, paved walkways embedded in grass, Buddhist pines and stone lanterns. Though popular in a variety of settings, from living room interior design to flower arrangement to gardening, Japanese Zen-infused spaces are not the easiest to create and maintain. Contemporary European and neoclassical gardens are easier to make and are ideal for detached villas because of their simple, low-maintenance layout, which consists of a square pond, some greenery and automatic sprinkler systems. Enjoying a continuously running waterfall and leisurely swimming Koi fish is pure relaxation for a homeowner.

An aquarium is more affordable but as high-maintenance as a garden. Aquariums have long been popular in Vietnam, and in the past, little care was required as adults would keep goldfish and children would keep Siamese fighting fish or guppies in small fishbowls. But to create a well-aquascaped aquarium or biotope is a different story because it is a small-scale replica of aquatic plants, animals and terrain in a home setting. Aesthetically pleasing aquariums are works of art, as evidenced by the imagination of designers such as Pham Huong, the owner of Pham Gia Aqua. An aquarium can be placed almost anywhere around the house: under the stairs, wall-mounted in the living room as a colorful wall hanging or even on top of a refrigerator. The only exception is the bedroom, where a quiet environment is necessary.

The ultimate goal is to incorporate nature into a tank so that a vivid world is created underwater. Painter/pharmacist Bui Xuan Chuong (younger brother of Painter Bui Xuan Phai) paved the way for aquascaping in Vietnam. He was searching high and low for aquatic plants back in the 1960s, at a time that not many thought about home decoration. He was later crowned the Honorary President of the Hanoi Biotope and Aquascaping Club. Nowadays, dozens of aquatic species are known to thrive in an aquarium setting. Their vibrant colors in crystal clear water serve to liven up any home. Saltwater aquaria are preferred by a few coastal residents, but these can be rather costly.

Therefore, freshwater aquaria, which house plants such as willow, dwarf rotala, magenta water hedge, cardinal flower and cylindricfruit primrose-willow, and fish such as sailfin molly, angelfish, guppy and green neon tetra, remain the most common. Seeing the fish swim among aquatic plants instantly puts one at ease and helps quiet the disturbances of daily life. Taking things one step further, some are even creating miniature rainforests right on the balcony. Nguyen Ngoc Thang developed this innovative idea from the paludarium concept. A miniature aquatic and terrestrial biotope is not only a refreshing sight to see, but also a heat controller and an air filter on any west-facing balcony. Populated by South American pineapples and air plants (which obtain nutrients from the air, not the soil) as well as Koi fish swimming in self-circulating streams, the rainforest will shield the west side of your home and turn it into a nice cool space that every family member will cherish.