Lettuce: My Garden Hero

This is a photo of one of my Tom Thumb lettuces. For me, Lettuce is the backbone of any kitchen garden. It’s such a versatile crop, and it can make the difference between a lackluster, patchy garden and an oasis of wow-ness (I made that word up, can you tell?).

Firstly, it’s super easy to grow. My goodness, I could launch some seeds from the deck and I’d be picking lettuce in 4 – 6 weeks. Honestly. Secondly, the variety of different shapes, sizes, tastes, and colours of the leaves is astounding. Do you want crunchy or melt in the mouth buttery? Do you want mild or sharp, or bitter? You could easily grow nothing but Lettuce in your garden and not get bored of it, ever.

But thirdly, and this is the reason I get so excited about Lettuce, is that it’s the one plant that will make or break your garden’s design. And for me, after taste, design comes a close second.

I sow some Lettuce as early as I can to ensure I get the longest season possible. All I have is a coldframe so I usually sow some in there to begin with and then move to a prepared seedbed outside once the weather warms up.

I pick a small patch of the garden (only a metre square) and sow lots of different varieties in succession (a few every week). Once the seedlings get to the four or five leaf stage I will transplant them to their final growing position. Above is a photo of my Oakleaf seedbed.

This is where it starts to get exciting. Because if I’ve done it right then I should have lots of different shapes and colours to choose from. So I can start to make pretty rows of contrasting shades which, once they start to heart up, will really start to give mtp that kitchen garden / potager look.

You have to be on your toes though. This is not a sow once and forget it project. No, you need to keep up the supply of seedlings – which means keeping up with the sowing. Because, once you harvest your first Lettuce, that’s it, you’ve ruined the design. But not, (aha!) if you have some seedlings ready to plant into the gap. Or… better still, if you have already planted some seedlings inbetween your larger Lettuce in anticipation of them being harvested. Sneaky!

Once, you’ve got a steady stream of Lettuce coming in, all you have to worry about is eating it. Which is never a problem, I’m sure. One of my favourites is Merveille des Quatre Saisons – so soft and fluffy! What varieties of Lettuce do you grow? Can you suggest any unusual ones that taste amazing?

22 Comments on “Lettuce: My Garden Hero

  1. The variety I always go back to is Salad Bowl. It comes in a variety of colours and each colour tastes different. I prefer cut and come again lettuce as we don’t actually eat alot of lettuce, so I can just harvest what I require without having to remove the whole plant.
    I also like Little Gem as it has such a nice taste. It’s a nice compact variety.

  2. That’s a cool idea – lettuces as garden design! I just might steal it. Hubby and I have a small vegetable bed right in our front yard and the lettuces are indeed flourishing.

  3. I love this idea but unfortunately I’m not very good with lettuces I killed my last ones :(

  4. I agree, I love lettuce. I always am sprinkling the seeds in little bare spots here and there throughout the garden. We eat salads all spring/summer/fall.

  5. I am starting my first vegetable bed two raised beds 1.5 by 2.5 meters (5 feet by 8 feet) by 60cm high (2 feet high) – and although they are not quite the masterpieces of carpentry I hoped that they would be (seriously crooked to one another!) they are already providing- including lettuce- in fact, lettuce is so easy to grow that I have some growing in two flower boxes in which I had planted lettuce last year and apparently not all of the seeds germinated. And even though we had a very harsh wintre by Belgian standards, and the flower boxes had been left on the patio- the lettuce has germinated and is now ready to eat!

    too bad I didn(t have such good results with my pea plants…

  6. Lettuce is very pretty. I’ve got some mixed leaves seeds that have provided me with lots of different colours and leaf shapes. It’s made quite a display and is probably one of the easiest things to grow. The only thing to worry about is slugs and so far (fungers crossed) there’ve been very few attacks on my lettuce. This is partly due to growing it in pots this year which makes it significantly harder for them to get to.
    For me though, cut and come again lettuce is best. It doesn’t look quite as ornamental as regimented lined up lettuces but it does make for easy and regular salad harvesting.

  7. I find myself taking pictures of my lettuces for just that reason – until I started my garden I never knew how many kinds there are and how beautiful it is. Tom Thumb is one of my favs, particularly when the dew is formed on the circles of the leaves. Cut and come again are the main kinds I am growing, then the beauty keeps on all season.

  8. Your lettuces look so pretty all together!
    I really like Paris Cos for the crunch, and Quattro Stagioni by Franchi seeds which grow really big and are beautiful because they’re lots of colours. I always forget to sow successionally and end up with gaps of time without lettuce while I wait for them to grow!

  9. 4-6 weeks is great! Mine seem to take a season. What am I doing wrong? I sow direct into multi purpose compost in wooden wine boxes outside the back door. They get watered and thinned as appropriate. Right now I have some cos seedlings that were planted over two months ago, protected by a cloche, and are still no more than three inches tall. Help, please, cos I love lettuce too.

  10. I’m with you on the “wow-ness” of lettuces. I like to plant any of the light greens against the dark reds — pretty as a picture. A couple of my faves are Green Oakleaf and Little Gem. Was is the real dark red ruffly kind you have in your photos? It’s gorgeous.

  11. Hi Tom, What’s the temperature where you live? Lettuce grow very slowly in colder weather. Could that be the problem?

  12. Hi Christa,
    The dark red Lettuce is Red Oakleaf.

  13. I have cos lettuce, but at the moment they have about 5,long leaves each and no core in the middle. I’m in the north east coast of england, so on a night the temperature is still only about 3 degrees C, even after a sunny day and a bit of cloud cover to keep in the warmth. So I’m eating them by picking a leaf off each so far. BUT I love radishes. Now they’re QUICK!

  14. I love salad and grow different varieties to keep eating it for most of the year. Personal favourite is also Merveille de Quatre Saisons but have also grown (not all at once!) Little Gem – very reliable, Freckles (green cos with red flecks), Reine de Glaces. Of the loose leaf types I grow Black Seeded Simpson, Bronze Arrowhead and Green Oak Leaf. I extend the season with oriental greens, mustard, chicory and corn salad. I enjoy trying different varieties (particularly on recommendation) and finding out what works for me. Not terribly good at repeat sowing but aim to be better!
    I also like to use these decoratively. By the way have you read ‘Creative Vagetable Gardening’ by Joy Larkcom? Inspirational book – but you may need a bigger garden!
    Have enjoyed mtp since I discovered it a few months ago.

  15. Hi,

    We have only just started with veggies and I have to say, our lettuces are keeping us very happy!! We bought a pack of 12 that were about 5cm tall. I planted them up in our little veg plot at the beginning of April and all but one are thriving!! One of them is much smaller than the others and needs a load more water to make it through the day. Not sure what’s wrong with it. It’s at the end of one of the rows, and the others in the same line are doing well. Any clues? Also, we are wondering when you harvest them? They are Iceberg lettuces and some of them seem to be starting to ball up in the centre. How much longer do we need to wait?? I have also planted some seeds but so far I have only got 2 out of 17 that are doing anything, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

  16. I’m so jealous, here in Colorado the lettuce season is about a month long. then it gets so hot and dry the only way to have good lettuce is to keep a hose on them all day. sigh. Good for you!

  17. If you love salad leaves of all kinds , all year…. read ‘Salad Leaves for all Seasons’ by Charles Dowding. Lots and lots of info about all sorts of varieties that make salads very exciting using herbs aswell. Includes lots of when and where growing info. Definatley a good guide to beautiful ‘wow-ness’ in the veg plot.

  18. Hi Caz, I actually have that book. It’s great. I was due to go to an evening with Charles at a bookshop here in Bath, but my baby came early and so I couldn’t go. A friend went for me and got the book.

  19. Hi Pink,
    Where in Colorado are you? My husband is from Colorado Springs.

  20. We have rows of red chicory (whiche we consider a cut and come again salad) against the green oak leaf lettuce and they look amazing! Next year I’m sorely tempted to plant them in spirals but Himself has said that if I do he’s downing tools until the lettuce season is over in case people think he’s gone daft.

    I quite like the idea of lettuce circles, like miniature crop circles …

  21. I haven’t bought a lettuce for years, but despite the battle over summer (in Western Australia – you need a big committment to mulching and illegal watering) it’s winter that’s the hardest. Once the temperature gets below 5c the lettuces stop growing – does anyone know which is the most cold resistant lettuce? I grow both red mignonette and green mignonette lettuces – don’t know where they originated, but don’t exactly sound indigenous to Australia!