16 July 2019

In pictures: Lettuce season

The queen of salad veg is thriving in the Kitchen Garden, with heritage varieties as well as old favourites bursting to life.

By Hélèna Dove

Lettuce, Kitchen Garden

There's more to the humble lettuce than meets the eye.

Centuries old

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a leafy vegetable that belongs the daisy family Asteraceae.

Originating in the Mediterranean, lettuce has been cultivated as an edible crop for centuries. Lettuce leaves were even depicted on the walls of Egyptian tombs. 

Originally, lettuce didn't taste very nice. It was a bitter leaf, but slowly this crop has been bred to produce the tender, sweet leaves consumed today.

Lettuce, Kitchen Garden
Flashy Butteroak lettuce, Kitchen Garden, Ellen McHale © RBG Kew

Different shapes and sizes 

Did you know that lettuce isn't always green? Lettuce varies widely in colour, from light green to deep red.

The shape and size of lettuce leaves are also a mixed bag. Some, such as Batavian lettuce have frilly, delicate leaves whereas others such as butterhead lettuce have thick, rounded leaves. 

Lettuce is a useful plant for companion planting. This method is when different plants that enhance each other's growth are planted next to each other.

For example, lettuce and beans make a good pair, because beans provide dappled light that lettuce plants like. Beans like to have their roots moist, which lettuce provides by covering the ground and stopping transpiration of water.

Lettuce, Kitchen Garden
Lollo Rosso lettuce, Kitchen Garden, Héléna Dove © RBG Kew
Lettuce, Kitchen Garden
Oakleaf Navara lettuce, Kitchen Garden, Helena Dove © RBG Kew
Lettuce, Kitchen Garden
Flashy Butteroak lettuce, Kitchen Garden, Helena Dove © RBG Kew

Heritage varieties 

In the Kitchen Garden, we experiment with growing heritage varieties of fruit and veg. At the moment we're growing 'All the Year Round' lettuce, which is a heritage cultivar from before 1856 and is a very hardy specimen. As well as being quick growing, it's very tolerant to dry weather which is important as British summers get more unpredictable. 

Another highlight that we're growing this year is 'Really Red Deer Tongue' lettuce. This is dark red with pointed leaves, and will bring a rich silkiness to your salad bowl. 

Head down to the Kitchen Garden to see our beds bursting with a rainbow of goodness. 

Kitchen Garden

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Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our thriving Kitchen Garden in a guided tour.

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