This section is from the book "What England Can Teach Us About Gardening", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: What England Can Teach Us About Gardening.
All large leaves tend to have a masculine effect in the landscape and there is one leaf form that is peculiarly virile. Here again the botanist helps us with his word "palmate," which refers to the outstretched fingers of the hand. The chief plant used by the "bedding crowd" to produce this effect is the castor-oil bean, but fan palms, abutilons, fatsias, and tender aralias are also turned out of greenhouses for the purpose.
A good hardy plant of this type is the elm-leaved spirea, which the nurserymen call Spiraea Ulmaria. The one they call Spircea palmata has a spirited, amost eager, appearance. But it is possible for palmate leaves to look too eager. The aroids, an immense tropical family, are noted for their dragon-like leaves, and the names given them by the botanists refer to salamanders, demons, and other creatures with "claws to snatch." It is proper that these curiosities should be cultivated in greenhouses by collectors, but we ought not to have such diabolical suggestions in Northern gardens.
Indeed, the more this resemblance to the human hand is softened, the better it is for a country where people admire the strong man that has gentle manners. The grasping suggestion is likely to vanish when there are three or seven or nine lobes, instead of exactly five fingers, and when these lobes are cut or fringed, we get native strength clothed in delicacy. To this type belong larkspurs, globe flowers, anemones, aconites, and other perennials.
Among trees the horse chestnut is a noble example; also the sweet gum, which has a starry suggestion. But the maples have more palmate beauty than any other hardy trees. The Japanese kinds are doubtless the favourites for subtropical effect, but our own red and sugar maple look more at home than any other trees with palmate leaves, and therefore ought to be planted on a larger scale than any other.
In other words, I should never use palms in a Northern landscape. Instead I should use hardy plants with palmate leaves, for these have the spirit of tropical beauty in bodies that are toughened to our climate.
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