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compound interest

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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.

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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.

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Tetrapanax overhanging melianthus, starting to invade each other’s spatial planes

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Pinnately compound, Melianthus major ‘Purple Haze’**

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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.)

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For floating, hovering, shadow-making mystery suspended mid-air, go compound.

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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.

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I keep the tetrapanax limbed up, too, so I can plant every square inch around its trunk.

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The filtered light is perfect for things like bromeliads.

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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.)

8 comments to compound interest

  • I am going to see your garden in person someday. I am! (lovely photos, as always)

  • Denise

    Loree, I’m trying to talk Marty into turning his office into a guest bedroom ;)

  • David Feix

    Denise, the Melanoselinum is always possible if you think of it as a small temporary tree soaring over the plants below. If that still takes up too much limited space, use it in a large pot elevated on a pedestal, as I use it in my own garden, as one half of a duet with a Chamaedorea plumosa. I love these two paired, similar yet different. The fragrant pink flowers on a large candelabra inflorescence are worth waiting for! (Should I dare mention I’ve had this get 9 feet tall by 6 feet across?) I doubt it will get so large in warmer/dryer s. California.

  • Saucydog

    I respectfully want to point out that tetrapanax is palmate, but not compound…I think. I wish I could go out to the garden and have a looksee.

    I’m a loyal lurker, Denise – you brought me out of hiding ~smile~

    I’d love to see your garden in person, too.

  • Denise

    @David, it’s going to be a battle of the titans then…the Eryngium padanifolium is just a couple feet away too. Oy!
    @Lisa, ha! I bow to your erudition. I checked the tetra, and you’re right. Not truly compound, but palmate. I need to make more gaffes if it draws you out of hiding!

  • Two of my current heartthrobs here: the Tetra and the Melianthus major ‘Purple Haze’. All hail compound leaves!

  • Denise

    Jane, yes, all hail compound, palmate, palmately compound, etc, etc!

  • Here in the land of compound leaves, especially bipinnate compound leaves (anything to stand up to wind and uber-dryness), this is a fun post to see how it works on the west coast!

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