close up of lettuce leaves ready for harvest with some red tinge visible
(Image credit: Sokolenko / Getty Images)

It is a quaint custom to commemorate people by naming things after them. In my family, we have Grandpa's Spaghetti Sauce. The descendants of a Civil War veteran named a lettuce after their grandpa and preserved seeds in the family until 1977 when it was given to the Seed Savers Exchange. This rich history of Grandpa Admire's lettuce kind of puts our family's spaghetti sauce to shame but the same sentiment is present and the memories abide.

History of Grandpa Admire's Lettuce

Admire's heirloom lettuce is a butterhead lettuce. The heading "lettuce" covers a wide range of different greens. In fact, the term has been somewhat bastardized to include things that are leafy but not in the family Lactuca. If you are a purist, you will be horrified to find things like kale and spinach lumped in with lettuce, but a green is a green; and I say if it tastes good in a salad and is leafy, it's a lettuce. In this case, the heirloom lettuce plants really are lettuces and deserving of the name, purist or not. Lettuce seed is easy to save by allowing the plants to bolt and collecting the seed after flowers are spent. These fast growing plants hybridize like rabbits mate, and new strains pop up in the lettuce patch annually. Grandpa Admire's lettuce plant was likely just such a happy surprise but he apparently liked the variety so much he collected the seed and saved it year after year. Since this lettuce is slow to bolt, he had to have the right conditions to get flowers. The seeds passed down the generations in his family until his granddaughter, Cloe Lowry, gave the seeds to the Exchange when she was 90 years of age, thus preserving the species for many more growers. That gift in 1977 will ensure that her grandpa's memory is commemorated by many more gardeners every spring when they sow the seeds.

About Admire's Heirloom Lettuce

Grandpa Admire's lettuce plant is loose leafed with bronze tips. Leaves are soft and deeply crinkled to catch all that salad dressing. The slow to bolt plant is also very heat tolerant and will provide sweet leaves long past other varieties of lettuce have gone bitter. The plants are quite large and can be cut to come again several times. Admire's heirloom lettuce has a mild flavor that forms a perfect foil for other veggies in a salad and won't out compete the variety of tastes. Butterhead lettuces are super tender and benefit from mixing with harder leaved varieties and different textures if not using other vegetables. Try mixing it with Romaine or Iceberg for added crunch.

Growing Heirloom Lettuce Plants

Lettuces should be started in the cooler season. In most regions, it is best to start them indoors in flats 4 weeks before the date of the last frost. This will ensure your little lettuces get a chance to thrive and won't get taken out by a sudden chill. Transplant them after hardening off to a prepared bed. You can also direct sow them in the ground after all danger of frost has passed. Lettuce can be cut back and will regrow new leaves several times. It can also be successively sown through spring for continuous crops. Grandpa Admire's is uniquely tolerant of warmer weather and will keep producing into early summer, especially if planted where it gets protection from the highest heat of the day. Let some of the plants bolt into summer and in late summer to early fall, harvest the seed to keep commemorating Grandpa Admire and his wonderful lettuce.

Bonnie Grant