Over the course of the next few months I added a few plants - most notably a couple Spathiphyllum plants - not true aquatics (although I didn't know that when I bought them), but they can survive for extended periods underwater - and a couple more Echinodorus. The Spathiphyllum anchored the back right corner of the tank, while the new Echinodorus plants occupied spaces on either side of the filter intake.
Echinodorus, the "Amazon swords" are an interesting - and diverse - group of plants. My original ones were a tall species - once they get large enough, they produce emergent leaves. They would make nice pond plants and would be good in open tanks, but they really aren't idea for the setup I have unless you are willing to do some major pruning. From what I have read, pruning the roots is probably the most efficient way to produce a smaller plant. The corys excavated the root ball of one of the large Echinodorus, which had the desired effect of dwarfing the plant (for the time being, anyway). I may trim the root mass again in a few months, or try dividing the plant. The other species of Echinodorus is very different - it's really the idea plant for my setup. It has shorter petioles and more lanceolate leaves. Ever since I switched to 6500 K plant bulbs it has produced smaller, denser leaves. It makes a good background plant, filling space at the back of the tank. Since the plants came with plantlets (flower spikes which had either failed to break the surface or, more probably, been submerged when the plants were prepared for shipping), I planted them in what became the Macropodus tank. They seem to have done well in that overgrown, badly overstocked tank. Since I upgraded the lighting in there (from the original incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent) they seem to be doing better. Unfortunately, conditions in that tank favour algae growth (no snails, excess nitrates) so the leaves tend to have a lot of epiphylls (plants that grow on the leaves of other plants; in this case, algae). During that period I also received a number of plants from a friend. That increased my species diversity, and gave me some new options. I also bought a piece of driftwood. Eschewing the normal rules, I placed it to the from of the tank where it provided cover for my kuhli loaches in a place where they would be visible to me.
Unfortunately, I also suffered an ich outbreak. Since I was unwilling to use any of the commercially available ich treatments (most are based on malachite green, a carcinogen), I decided to go with high temperature + salt. While this succeeded in clearing up the ich problem, it also wreaked havoc on the plants. The entire experience dampened by enthusiasm, and the issue of aquascaping was put on the back burner.
Things changed again late in the summer. As is customary, we went Petosky stone hunting when we were in Michigan, and walking along the pebble beaches I collected a number of other interesting rocks. When I got home I gave some of them a shot in my aquarium. I wasn't sure about their suitability - if they were carbonate based they would probably raise the hardness significantly - but I thought it was worth a shot. I excluded the glittery rocks out of concern that they might contain pyrites (which could yield suphuric acid in the tank) and the Petoskies (pretty, but I knew them to be calcite). I figured I could take them out if they increased the hardness too much.
Adding the rocks changed the tank substantially for the corys. Prior to that, their use of space was largely governed by the availability of cover. Large, open areas to the front of the tank were rarely used during the day. Adding rocks along the bottom of the tank creased more usable space for the bottom-dweller. Coupled with additional substrate in the back left corner of the tank, there was the beginning of an aquascape. Since then I have added a few more plants. Establishment of the plant tank also created a source of cuttings that I could use in the main tank. Unfortunately, the first species I focussed on proved to be a poor choice.