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Bloody Marvel

An experimental new variety lettuce variety bred for resilience to London's challenging growing conditions.


It is inspired by research into the Bloody Cos variety, also known as Spotted Aleppo which originated in Syria in the 18th Century.

Lettuce nomenclature is notoriously muddled (due to the frequent renaming of varieties by 20th Century seed catalogues) so 'finding' the lettuce involved sourcing seed for any available speckled varieties including varieties such as 'Forellenschluss' (Speckled Trout Back), and growing them out to eradicate duplicate synonyms, through a previous project at Walworth Garden, the Walworth Lettuce Trials' (2017).


I found a variety under the name Spotted Aleppo available through the Thomas Jefferson Centre at Monticello, that was sourced via the American heritage variety expert William Woys Weaver who claims to have re-discovered something that resembles the Bloody Cos, growing under a different name in France. I imported seed but disappointingly the variety performed very badly in London's growing conditions.


Undeterred, I began work on breeding a new London version of the Bloody Cos.


Parent selected were the long-standing heritage favourite 'Marvel of Four Seasons', and 'Mayan Jaguar' one of the most vivid red spotted varieties bred by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds in Oregon, USA. - a variety that already has a wide gene pool due to Frank's pioneering approach to plant breeding. 

They were then manually cross-pollinated (a process that involves rising at dawn to emasculate the flowers by sniping off the petals before the flowers have opened, and then as the flowers open, rubbing the parent plant onto the selected flower heads). Seed was then saved, and the following year (2018) selection began in earnest. 

The aim is a robust wide-gene-pool lettuce, more resistant to London's urban growing conditions. Through its striking red flecks of colour the variety gives a visual reminder of its complex genetic diversity.


Each new generation is trailed and the best selected for further trialling. For consistency it will require many more generations of growing out and selection, but because i’m less concerned about uniformity than commercial growers would be (who would grow out new varieties for 8 or 10 generations), i'm already making the seed available via the London Freedom Seed Bank.


The Bloody Marvel is currently in its third generation and continues to show significant variation. I am developing a network of partners in community gardens and urban spaces across London to trial the variety and report back on results. By participating you can help in the development of new generation of resilient London lettuce. Expect Inconsistency. 

Project Database of Speckled Varieties

7 Year Plan:

Year 1 (2016):
Variety research.
Seed sourcing.
Seed saving research and training.
Trials of speckled varieties.

Year 2 (2017) 

Build online research resource.

Map family tree of varieties.

Practice seed saving technique.
Trial of varieties to select parents for crossing.
Cross selected parent varieties.
Save seed.

Overwinter first generation

Year 3 (2018) 
Growing out first generation.

Initial Selection from (10?) potential lines?

(Further Outbreeding?)

Save seed from selected plants

Year 4 (2019) Objectives:
Growing out second generation (10x10). Selection for positive attributes within line. Reduce lines to 5.

Save seed from selected plants.

Distribute seed to selected partners for testing

(Further Outbreeding?)

Year 5 (2020)
Growing out third generation. (10x5).

Save seed from selected plants

Distribute seed to selected partners for testing

Year 6 (2021)
Growing out fourth generation. One line (50 x 1).

Save seed from selected plants

Distribute seed to selected partners for testing

Year 7. (2022)

Growing out fifth generation.

Save seed from selected plants

Seed distribution.

research, field trials, and collaborative breeding project

Research Links:

Open sourcing seed / corporate control of seed stocks:


Linux for Lettuce by Lisa M. Hamilton.

A comprehensive history of the ways seed patenting has disempowered seed breeders and growers and led to control of the seed gene pool by a small number of large companies


OSSI (Open Source Seed Initiative)

The website of OSSI, an alliance of open source breeders and small-scale seed companies


Initiatives for preservation of vegetable varieties:


Sowing the Seeds of Syria

A US small-scale initiative to preserve lettuce and other seeds threatened by the war in Syria

Urban growing, gentrification and social justice:


Civil Eats: D.C.’s Urban Farms Wrestle with Gentrification and Displacement

How urban farms in Washington struggle to stay relevant to long-term residents rather than more affluent incomers

London based Seed Saving Network:

The London Freedom Seed Bank is a network of food growers and gardeners dedicated to saving, storing and distributing open-pollinated seed. 

Practical seed-saving:


Seed Saving Instructions for Lettuce

Practical techniques for growing and harvesting lettuces


Charles Dowding's lettuce cropping approach

Grows Mottistone and Freckles. Picks individual leaves from the bottom up.

Sources of open-pollinated open-source lettuce seed:

Seed Co-operative

Sells certified biodynamic and organic vegetable, herb and flower seed, some of which they grow themselves in the Lincolnshire

Real Seeds

UK company participating in the Open Source Seed Initiative and selling some of Frank Morton’s lettuce varieties

Heritage Seed Library

Allied to Garden Organic. Operates a seed sharing scheme for heritage varieties

Irish Seed Savers

Seeks to preserve Irish heritage varieties. Includes seed of potted lettuces - Sanguine Ameliore, Speckled, Forellenschluss

Brown Envelope Seeds

Irish company participating in the Open Source Seed Initiative and selling heritage and open pollinated varieties, including some of Frank Morton’s lettuce varieties

Adaptive Seeds

US company participating in the Open Source Seed Initiative and selling heritage and open pollinated varieties, including some of Frank Morton’s lettuce varieties


Wild Garden Seed - Frank Morton

In US Frank Morton breeds many varieties of lettuces including many spotted ones


The Monticello Shop - Thomas Jefferson Centre for Historic Plants

Source of Spotted Aleppo lettuce seed and its two parents, Tennis ball and Brown Dutch

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