Most of the dozen or so lettuce varieties were the type described as cutting lettuces, which obligingly and vigorously sprout a fresh crop of leaves when they are snipped off just a couple of inches above the ground. They are often called cut-and-come-again lettuces.
Cutting lettuces are mostly non-heading leaf varieties from two groups, Grand Rapids and oakleaf. The Grand Rapids group produces broad, crinkled, and frilly leaves, while the oakleaf varieties have flatter and distinctively lobed leaves. Both groups include red and green varieties and several red-green combinations. All make great garden design elements.
Paint the garden with lettuce
Whatever else I grow, I always have plenty of ‘Black Seeded Simpson’, an heirloom. I don’t bother with little packets; I buy it by the ounce, about 25,000 seeds. Properly stored, lettuce seed stays viable
for three years. ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ is so reliable I use it as the standard for judging the germination success of other varieties. A fast grower, it produces crinkly, juicy, yellowish-green leaves. Its only shortcoming is a tendency to bolt in summer heat; it does best in spring and fall here on Long Island.
One of the best summer performers I have found is a romaine: a French cos, ‘Craquerelle du Midi’. When every other lettuce in my garden is getting bitter or defiantly announcing its plans to set seed, this one stays mild and leafy.
The red or green lobed leaves of the oakleaf types are pillars of the looseleaf establishment. There are at least half-a-dozen varieties of each color commonly found in seed catalogs. ‘Oakleaf’ is the original old standby that yields crisp, tender, light green leaves and keeps going through moderate heat. Although it has deeply lobed leaves, ‘Salad Bowl’ is not a true oakleaf. But it is an All-America Selections winner that produces rosettes of delicate lime-green leaves and also has good heat tolerance.
Tops for reliability, even through a hot summer, is ‘Red Sails’. Another All-America Selections winner, it’s a fast grower with green and reddish-bronze leaves.
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