If you tell a hardcore aquarium enthusiast that you have a custom freshwater aquarium, then you can probably expect them to ask, “Dutch or Nature style?” These two styles dominate the world of freshwater aquariums. I already touched on Takashi Amano’s beautiful nature aquariums a few months ago, so today I thought we could get European and examine the intricate layout of Dutch planted aquariums.

Dutch style aquariums are actually quite old. They sprang up around the 1930s and have been popular among aquascapers ever since. Much like nature aquariums, Dutch aquariums focus almost entirely on aquatic plants. The fish are often more of an afterthought or a colorful highlight to the aquarium’s green, leafy focal point.

"Enchanted Garden" Dutch Style Aquarium

Image source: Aquascapers.wordpress.com

That’s where the similarity ends, though. Unlike nature aquariums, which highlight natural chaos and utilize negative space, Dutch aquariums are more like a well-manicured, crowded garden. These aquariums often include many different species of plants arranged in neat rows to create depth and contrast. People often describe Dutch aquariums as having “streets” and “avenues,” with the smallest plants forming a street in the foreground and the tallest plants forming the back street.

Dutch aquariums typically put heavy focus on colorful plants. There simply isn’t enough room for rock or driftwood accents, so Dutch aquariums need to rely on red and brown plants to provide visual contrast against an overwhelmingly green background. If you arrange the plants properly, the result is a visually stunning aquascape that embodies organic diversity and growth.

Dutch-Inspired Aquarium

Image source: Plantedspace.com

These aquariums are a bit more complicated to maintain than nature aquariums because each plant behaves in its own unique way. Some plants grow much more quickly than others, so you’ll need to trim your plants frequently in order to maintain the foreground-background layout. That’s a double-edged sword: the constant maintenance may be tedious, but on the bright side you can maintain the vision of your tank indefinitely. By contrast, nature style aquariums can eventually be overwhelmed by rampant plant growth.

Dutch aquariums are in a unique spot in the aquascaping hobby because they represent the best of the saltwater and freshwater worlds. Saltwater aquariums are popular because they show off a plethora of aquatic species with bright, contrasting colors. People like freshwater aquariums because they highlight calming, abundant plantlife. Dutch aquariums do both – the planted ecosystem places heavy emphasis on fertile plants, while still capturing the visual complexity and bright color contrasts that you often see in saltwater aquariums.

Verdant Dutch Style Aquarium

Image source: Aquascape-aquarium.blogspot.com

So, are Dutch aquariums right for you? It’s all a matter of taste, really. If you like well-maintained gardens and stunning flower arrangements, then a custom Dutch style aquariums might be right up your alley.