Okay, many thanks to reader Lynne Phelps for pushing me to get this right. I think we're there.
To compare, here's the second version of this card, which has a too small, too dark leaf focal point. The design is simply unbalanced, and the tiny leaf punch looks like a dark hole in the design.
The small punched maple leaf has been replaced with a large, stamped leaf. This new version makes the leaf's color not quite so dark, and the white veins help us lose the "dark hole in the design" look. I wish I had a slightly smaller leaf stamp (this classic one from the now-out-of-business Stampa Rosa is rather large!), but the balance between the larger stamped leaf and the sentiment is much better.
Anyway, the design is open and spacious now, not cramped onto the bottom two inches of the card. I like it!
But I want serious credit for cutting out that stamped leaf because y'all know I'm generally too lazy to do that level of fussy cutting.
So thanks, Lynne, for pushing me. I'm happy with the result!
stamps: Stampa Rosa leaf, Hero Arts wood grain, Simon Says Stamps sentiment
paper: Papertrey white
ink: VersaMagic jumbo java, Hero Arts mint julep
accessories: scissors, Papertrey twine, dimensionals