COURTESY PHOTOCarefully designed tanks filled with water

Gardens bloom under water at Conservatory of Flowers

A dozen large tanks, some as long as 6 feet, are set into the walls of a novel exhibit at the Conservatory of Flowers called “Aquascapes: The Art of Underwater Gardening.”

While these submerged gardens – which look like primeval forests, verdant valleys or even abstract art – aren't familiar to American audiences, they aren't uncommon in other places.

“Aquascaping is enormously popular around the world, particularly in crowded cities and colder countries where outdoor gardening isn't possible,” says Lau Hodges, conservatory director of operations and exhibit curator, who is hoping that the exhibition serves as an inspiration to Americans.

“Aquascaping offers urban audiences an exciting new possibility for apartment gardening – one that really allows the inner science geek and inner artist to express themselves. It's gardening for the maker culture, really,” adds Hodges.

Nine of the tanks in the show take their inspiration from Africa, Asia and South America, making use of native plants, rock, hardwood and fish to evoke the natural landscape of tropical places.

Started by the Dutch in the 1930s, aquascaping came to prominence in Japan in the 1990s, popularized by aquarist and photographer Takashi Amano, who was influenced by the Zen practice of rock and plant arrangement and its emphasis on minimalism.

His work has triggered worldwide interest in the hobby and led to the establishment of international aquascaping associations as well as an annual competition called the International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest, which attracted 2,320 entries in 2014.

Tanks in the San Francisco show are filled with fresh water, and heated moderately because the plants are tropical. To maintain the display, a step-by-step process requires multiple water changes, with varying levels of water at each step. To begin, water is added to rocky soil, then the hardscape (rocks and wood) is put into place, before fish are added.

To accommodate the water changes, tanks are only about a quarter full – because it is difficult to reach down through two feet of water, Hodges says.

IF YOU GO

Aquascapes: The Art of Underwater Gardening

Where: Conservatory of Flowers, 100 John F. Kennedy Drive, Golden Gate Park, S.F.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closes April 12

Tickets: $3 to $8

Contact: (415) 831-2090, www.conservatoryofflowers.org

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