Image found here
I don’t have a lot of botanical vocabulary at my fingertips anymore, but I do know a compound leaf when I see one*, since I’ve always had a pronounced weakness for them. If you’ve got a potted Fatsia japonica tucked in against the baseboards near a south-facing window, chances are you do too. A compound leaf guarantees a lushly dramatic presence. Aralia, tetrapanax, angelica are some examples that come quickly to mind, all with great shaggy leaves that unleash heaps of transverse, horizontal energy into the garden. I’ve got some good examples at the moment, three that I’ve planted almost on top of each other.
Palmately compound Not compound, but palmate leaves of tetrapanax with that jagged, horizontal energy I was trying to describe.
Edited to add: See Saucydog’s comment below.
Tetrapanax overhanging melianthus, starting to invade each other’s spatial planes
Pinnately compound, Melianthus major ‘Purple Haze’**
And completing the compound trifecta this spring, an umbellifer from Maderia, Melanoselinum decipiens, its trial run in the garden this year.
(All those umbellifers we love to cut for vases, like Queen Anne’s Lace (Ammi majus) are characterized by compound leaves.)
For floating, hovering, shadow-making mystery suspended mid-air, go compound.
Dustin Gimbel brought his buddy, photographer Joshua McCullough, over recently, and as we both stood before the melanoselinum, or “Black Parsley” as it’s also known by, I mentioned, possibly a little nervously, that I hear it gets pretty big. Joshua responded that he’s seen it growing in the wild, and big might be an understatement. Huge would be getting somewhat closer to the truth. I’ve already started removing some of its lower leaves to reduce some of the congestion and crowding as it flings those great leaves wide.
I keep the tetrapanax limbed up, too, so I can plant every square inch around its trunk.
The filtered light is perfect for things like bromeliads.
If I had a larger garden, I doubt I’d choose to plant this much complicated, jagged beauty in such close proximity.
But I really don’t think it’s possible for a garden to have too much compound interest.
*except not really. See Saucydog’s comment re tetrapanax’s palmate leaf, not palmately compound leaf.
**(And I just noticed another example, the golden tansy Tanacetum vulgare ‘Isla Gold’ in the lower right.)