Before I start: I'm rather new to the hobby, so here's just what I've researched. Other members will probably have better advice than I have, but this is from one beginner to another.
First question: I really wanted to do a planted tank, and my two top choices were java fern and Hygrophila. Java fern, Microsorum pteropus, is supposed to be incredibly hardy, you just have to have driftwood or rocks to tie it down to for its "roots" to cling to. You can't just bury it in the substrate or it'll choke the rhizome. The entire genus of Hygrophila is supposed to be good. I have Hygrophila corymbosa "stricta" and Microsorum pteropus both in my new 8 gallon tank. I'll let you know how they're doing in the coming months.
I've also seen java moss recommended everywhere, but it's been hard to find, and I'm too scared and stubborn to pay for shipping and trust it'll arrive healthy. I really prefer inspecting things first.
Oh, and be sure to write down both common names and scientific names while shopping. Petco had really weird common names for their plants, like "Aqua fern" and "Compacta", but they also listed their scientific names underneath.
Both java fern and H. corymbosa are low- to medium-light plants, making them ideal if you don't want a complex lamp setup. They do, however, need some light, so if your tank doesn't have a stock light, definitely look into getting at least a desk lamp for your setup.
Second question: There's a sub-forum here dedicated to Betta-related art, and there are a few artists who offer to do pixels from time to time. Go check it out!
Last edited by leafythegreat; 08-18-2012 at 06:12 PM.
Reason: Clarification - I'm NOT an expert!