Seed catalogs group varieties of lettuce according to their shape and texture at maturity, and learning the basic types helped me to choose an exciting assortment for my garden. Butterheads are tender with softly folded leaves. Romaine, or cos, lettuces form upright heads, and their leaves have crunchy ribs. Crispleaf and Batavian varieties mature to dense bunches or heads of juicy, succulent leaves. Looseleaf varieties grow in an open and fluttery fashion without forming heads.
I always plant too many at first, eager as I am for their swirling rosettes to fill the bare soil. Not caring what lands where, I sprinkle out a mix of my favorite seeds, thinning as they grow to give the strongest among them space to reach maturity.
When it comes time to pick a quick salad of spring lettuces, my work is largely done. From the garden’s palette I pluck leaves here and there until my bowl cradles a flawless composition: salad as still life, needing only enough dressing to make it shimmer. I keep the flavors minimal; a subtle yet satisfying white balsamic vinaigrette is perfect.
I’ll keep harvesting and eating successive plantings of greens through early fall. But my favorite time for lettuces is during spring’s cool rains, when the newest leaves sprout from seed and bring my garden back to life.
Check out 43 of our favorite lettuce varieties!