Putting it all together:
My initial planning involved doing some very rough sketches on paper on how I wanted to lay it out. A bigger tank requires a bit more planning and even when you do, things go wrong.
So we start here:
Using eggcrate and about 7" pieces of 2" diameter PVC piping I created a false bottom that would ultimately amount to about 12g of water under the land mass. I also had 3" diameter PVC piping initially placed as my waterfall and tree buttress, but decided to use other techniques instead which negated the pipes.
I then went to work on creating my structures. I wanted to build them outside the tank for simplicity and split them up into 2 structures to make altering them and placing them in the tank easier. Also, should there ever be a problem with one, I don't have to wreck EVERYTHING to fix it. Once their basic foundations were completed, I tested them to make sure they would fit. It's a good thing I did because I discovered that one of my buttress roots and my river were overlapping by a decent amount. Fortunately both were still in Great Stuff only form and were easy to carve out.
I used black silicone to cover all three sides so I could later carve out shapes as needed.
I then went and completed my structures and tested the fit again. Stupid me hadn't realized all those layers would add some to the thickness. Again the root and river were WAY too tight, but if I tried hard enough, the squeezed together.
I initially tried to lay out a couple branches to add some anterior-posterior depth, but just hated the branches. Both were too dominating. Stupid Mopani only coming in giant sizes.
I went back to the store and picked out more pieces. I now knew I wanted long skinny pieces to attach my plants too, but so that they also wouldn't overwhelm the scene. I found exactly what I wanted after visiting 3 stores. I then began using Great Stuff to create texture on the flat spots and my side islands. I used 3oz Dixie cups (eg: for Jello shots) instead of the typical planters most people use because I couldn't find the planters. The Dixie cups don't work as you can clearly see in this photo; the Great Stuff just pushes them out.
So instead of having pots, I simply carved crevices out of the Great Stuff. These would later get filled in with silicone and coco fiber like everything else and essentially become pots. I also took a Philips head screw driver slightly wider than some airline tubing and stabbed it through into the planter areas while it was still just Great Stuff. I then ran the airline tubing in so that I would have drainage. I left plenty of slack on the tubing on both ends so the silicone and coco fiber wouldn't clog it up.
I then applied everyone's favorite brown silicone + coco-fiber technique to the remaining surfaces I wanted covered. After I did that, I used a razor blade to cut away the silicone bits I didn't want. I also then trimmed the drainage tubing so it was short in the planters and practically invisible on the outside.
Here are some plant photos from an order I received:
Tank planted, but without water:
And lastly, filled up with water:
Bonus frog shots:
Fish-wise there is a male betta, a school of cardinal tetras and chinese loaches as algae eaters. I also wanted to have a bit of a cricket clean-up crew since they drown themselves so easily. For this purpose I have a small African Butterfly and a few ghost shrimp to catch what he misses. The butterfly cruises along the surface out front and will snap up any small crickets that make their way in the water, AWESOME! I know he will be large enough to eat the cardinal tetras eventually (definitely not currently), but they will likely stay deep and under the rock work. He stays at the top and cannot eat anything below him. As long as he is well fed (and I can't imagine he won't be), I don't think he should have much of a reason to dive down and go cardinal hunting.
The water portion amounts to ~12g and is filtered by a Fluval U2
that is hidden and accessible behind the tree buttress. The waterfall is supplied by a MiniJet 606. It was the only one rated with enough head to do the height of the tank, but I have it set to the lowest setting and still think it leans on the too strong side. Eventually (once its finished curing) that green tube will disappear and be replaced with a flat, wide nozzle at the top of the falls to spread the water evenly over the waterfalls top.
Lighting is supplied by a Current USA T5HO Sundial that I got a steal on
It has 4x24w T5HOs with 2 built in timers (1 for each pair so you can simulate sunrise and sunset by having different Kelvin lighting in each pair) as well as 2 LED moonlights.