Lettuces var. Bubbles, Red Salad Bowl and Ashbrook in a window box.
Lettuces are a year-round salad crop that are well-suited to British gardens. There are specific varieties for over wintering in polytunnels and greenhouses, but Sea Spring Seeds doesn’t offer any of these yet. So far, the ones we sell are primarily for growing outdoors from spring to autumn.
Choosing a Variety
Depending on their growth habit, lettuce varieties are divided into two broad types:
• Heading types
Heading varieties have leaves that are packed together to form a head in the centre of the plant.
- Cos/romaine. Elongated, upright leaves form loaf-like heads. In our experience, the taller types tend to produce loose, open heads, while the smaller framed cos types form heads that are firm and dense. These smaller types are often called ‘Little Gem’, though originally the term ‘Little Gem’ referred to a specific variety. The texture is crisp and crunchy, and the plants, especially the small-framed cos varieties, mature quite quickly.
Cos/romaine lettuces vars. Bubbles (left) and Chatsworth (right).
- Crisphead. Produce large, firm and roundish heads made of crisp leaves that are blanched white in the middle. With their spreading outer leaves removed, these lettuces are sometimes sold as ‘icebergs’ in the shops and supermarkets.
Crisphead lettuce var. Saladin
- Batavia. Generally refers to varieties that produce smaller, less dense heads than the crispheads, though some are non-heading. They have a reputation for their excellent flavour.
- Butterhead. Leaves are thin and soft with an oily texture. The outer ones are prostrate and light green, while those in the centre form a small, loose head that is yellowish in the middle. Plants are quite quick to mature.
Butterhead lettuce var. Clarion.
• Loose-leafed types
These are non-heading varieties that can be harvested as a cut-and-come-again crop to extend the harvest period. Well-known types are the self explanatory oak leaf varieties and the broad-leafed lollo types whose leaves have frilly margins.
Two non-heading lettuce varieties: Red Salad Bowl (left) and Salad Bowl (right).
The range of colours in lettuces is quite limited, and most varieties come in some shade of light green. A minority, however, are pigmented red on the parts of the leaves exposed to sunlight, while the occasional variety is speckled with splotches of red.
Some lettuces have red splotches.
There are specific varieties for over wintering in tunnels and greenhouses, and these are sold as winter lettuces. However, the majority of lettuce varieties sold are primarily for growing outdoors during the milder time of the year.