Homegrown lettuce is not only great in salad, it looks pretty in the garden too

Lettuce is a good place to start if you've been thinking about growing your own vegies. Picture: Shutterstock.
Lettuce is a good place to start if you've been thinking about growing your own vegies. Picture: Shutterstock.

One of the easiest leafy greens to grow and a delight to eat is lettuce, the pick of the crop for summer salads.

Leafy greens such as lettuce can be used among more permanent plantings to provide seasonal displays of colour or grown in containers as part of a kitchen garden.

So don't just relegate the humble lettuce to the vegie patch. There are many different varieties of lettuce which come in four main types. They include crisp head, loose-leaf, butter head and cos, sometimes referred to as romaine.

Within each type there a number of different varieties each with their own distinctive flavour, colour and texture, with such variety there is certainly something for every salad lover to enjoy.

Of the crisp-head varieties, iceberg is probably the most well known of the group. It has crisp green leaves with a firm heart and is an ideal summer variety, but can be grown throughout the year in temperate areas.

Loose leaf lettuce are some of the most attractive varieties, such as oak leaf which comes in a range of green and red colours. Mascara is an oak leaf variety with beautiful dark red leaves and a green base. Purple oak leaf is another loose leaf form with a purple tinge to the leaves and deserve a place in the garden where they can be shown off.

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Loose leaf lettuce varieties are pick and come again plants. Picking the outer most leaves as they mature means a continuous supply for salads and sandwiches. The red and green coral leaf lettuce is included in the loose-leaf group, but has more tightly curled and robust leaves than other loose leaf varieties.

The butter head types are also popular with butter crunch being highly rated with its sweet crisp leaves. Mignonette belongs to this group and the lovely red mignonette produces beautiful small red and green heads.

Cos lettuce is another great pick and come again lettuce and touted by chefs as the best lettuce for Caesar salad. Cos Verdi is an open upright variety, leaves are crisp with a unique flavour. An interesting variety called freckles is very attractive with distinctive splashes of red across the leaves.

If you can't get enough leafy greens add rocket, chicory, endive, mizuna and radicchio, an Italian red lettuce into the mix. All have a somewhat piquant flavour, but like the lettuce they are stunning plants for any garden.

  • John Gabriele is a horticulture teacher with a love for green spaces.

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