Lettuce delight you

Different types of lettuce that are growing in front of the National Museum of American History

Something chartreuse and wonderful caught my eye as I approached the museum’s Constitution Avenue entrance last week. I recognized it, but was surprised to see it there. While the team from Smithsonian Gardens always does a fabulous job with our landscaping, this time they really thought outside of the flower box—and planted lettuce! I spoke with Horticulturist Joe Brunetti and his intern Sarah Dickert to find out what inspired this digression.

First three rows: Australian Yellowleaf (chartreuse), Red Velvet, Pablo. 

If you could see it, you might think the only reason for lettuce in the flower beds is that it is colorful and beautiful. Lettuce can be as diverse as flowers. This crop has four types of lettuce. The vibrant colors, leaf forms and textures of these lettuces complement and play off each other. There is Australian yellow leaf, an heirloom loose leaf variety. Speckled troutback forellenschluss is an Austrian heirloom romaine variety. The red velvet is a loose leaf and Pablo is a loose head similar to Boston lettuce.


Red Velvet, Australian Yellowleaf, Forellenschluss (AKA speckled trout back)

Joe and his team thought that sowing lettuce on the “front lawn” would be a great advertisement for our Victory Garden, which is planted in the courtyard outside the Stars and Stripes Cafe. They also wanted to spread the concept of “edible ornamentals,” and show visitors how a garden can be beautiful, delicious, and nutritious all at the same time. What is the reaction so far? “Visitors love it and are very curious and interested,” says Joe. One called it a “big salad bowl.” Others are rather incredulous, and wonder if it really is edible. They are snapping lots of photos. (And I know they look tempting but please don’t pick the plants.)

Pansy ‘Matrix Midnight Glow’, Pablo, and Red Velvet lettuce.

Joe hopes that the lettuce lasts through the first mild frost. It is not as hardy as the pansies that are usually planted at this time of year, so his team has added signs and roping to keep pedestrians out of the beds. With some luck the lettuce will grow strong until it is covered by snow. Then it will be just a few months until 2,500 tulip bulbs start to peak through and brighten our museum entrance again.

What’s growing in your garden?

Kathy Sklar is Manager of the Business Program with the Office of Management and Museum Services at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.