Outdoor Aquarium

This fancy outdoor aquarium is sure to impress your guests.
Image from messagenote.com

On this blog we’ve talked about a few reversals, like bringing your koi pond inside and adding a waterfall to your living room (where, I have to stress, they rarely occur naturally). But we’ve rarely taken the reverse route: bringing items that are normally found indoors to the outside. But we can do that, if we take a look at the booming field of outdoor aquariums.

It is admittedly strange that this is something surprising, that we’d be shocked at the very idea of fish existing outside our house. Obviously, that is they belong. But the backyard exists as kind of a hybrid- it is our property, sure, and we try to tame it with lawnmowers and porches and sheds and those little gnomes that stare at you, always. But it is also infused with nature, and so it seems unusual to add fish to it. It’s the land, but not the sanitized and protected land under our roof.

It’s the juxtaposition and hybridization that I think gives outdoor aquariums their capacity to surprise and thrill. It’s not just the goosing jump of seeing something where you don’t expect, but seeing something where you have the nagging feeling it shouldn’t be. Luckily, that isn’t the case. Aquariums can be in the backyard, provided you keep a few things in mind.


Depending on where you live, an outdoor aquarium is either a year-round endeavor or something that is only for the warmer months. If, like me, you live in Chicago, your outdoor aquarium should just be a complement to an indoor one, and you should be prepared to take the fish inside when temps start to plummet. It is irresponsible and cruel to not plan this in advance.

If you are in a warmer climate, where at most the water might freeze a little, or not at all, you can have them year-round, but you’ll want to make sure the water is moving so it doesn’t freeze, or you can buy a heater. Either way, you’ll want to make sure that the fish you select can handle whatever temperature you live in. This can be obviated by heating supplies, but don’t forget that is more difficult outdoors (where you can’t control the ambient temperature). If this is not something you want consuming you life, pick fish stocks that can handle cooler water.


One of the cool things about an outdoor aquarium is that you have, essentially, a built-in planter. Now, this all depends on temperature and the climate you are in, but it isn’t very difficult to imagine an aquarium full of plants, both under the water and floating on top, partially hidden in your garden, with their green and undulating leaves both blending in and providing a mesmerizing contrast to your native, ground-based plants. And imagine how exciting it would be to see the suspension of water in your plants, with fish swimming around them, almost as if they are floating out of the normal bushes.

Design and Location

Once you have all other concerns out of the way, you want to design it. You don’t want this to be an unwanted interpolation in your yard, but something to perfect it. Is the yard dedicated to gardening? Make it full of plants. Does your patio with its stone walkway dominate the scenery? Take a look at the one below- a fireplace with fish instead of flames. If your backyard is modern, you can have a bold glass-and-angles aquarium. Be whimsical and creative. It can seem an extension of your pool, or a reflection of your aesthetic. Have a big TV for sports in your backyard? Put the aquarium opposite it, two flat screens offering vastly different worlds. It’s yours to do with what you’d like.

Fireplace aquarium

This outdoor aquarium is built into an unused fireplace.
Image source: hgtv.com

Enjoy designing! And this is a treat for the fish, as well. After all, whether in your house or under the ocean, fish rarely get to watch a sunset. You might not be able to crack open a beer with them and sit back and enjoy it, but they’ll know you’re there.