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I'm near Zurich, Switzerland, which is in hardiness zone 8a. I recently moved and have an uncovered patio facing North. It gets some sun in the morning and a tiny bit of sun in the afternoon.

I'm still a beginner and would love to have some low-maintenance edible plants on my patio. I don't want to start from scratch every (other) year, so the plants should be perennial and winter-hardy. Also, I don't want to grow salad, because I think it will require much more space than other plants. I've asked some more experienced people and done some research online, and already have the following candidates:

  • Chives
  • Lemon balm
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Wild garlic

I'd love some thyme and rosemary, but according to a lot of websites, they only do well in a very sunny place. The same applies to tomatoes. Speaking of which, my list mostly consists of herbs. Any fruits or vegetables that I should try? Has anyone had good experiences with berries under similar circumstances?

  • A good way to find the answer, it is to walk around the different garden lots. These are very inspiring, because of diversity, and some people really go with unconventional but nice ideas. Additionally, you really see what can resist. – Giacomo Catenazzi Mar 20 '17 at 8:06
  • To properly answer, could you add some details about how much space do you have, and if you are looking for a low maintenance vegetables, or just perennials. – Giacomo Catenazzi Mar 20 '17 at 8:35
  • @GiacomoCatenazzi: I mentioned in my post that they should be low-maintenance as well, since I am very inexperienced. I have roughly 20sqm, but I would only like to fill part of my patio with plants, say ~4-5sqm at the most (to start with). – Huy Mar 20 '17 at 8:43
  • low maintenance is not a good way to learn, because of the very slow feedback you have back from the plant. BTW I'm preparing the answer – Giacomo Catenazzi Mar 20 '17 at 9:04
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I would challenge some of your assumptions. I think some annual plants are good. You can buy some of them for few francs on every "grocery" shop e.g. basil, rosemary, or also tomatoes, etc. Then you trow away in autumn, as most of our citizen, or put the pot inside for winter (not the tomatoes).

Additionally I don't recommend to plant herbs as perennials in a pot. You need anyway to replace the soil every few years.

Thyme is a very diverse plant, I count 5 species in wild in Switzerland (and few other subspecies, which your university tends to give them a rank of species). Some of them can resists also on freeze (you can find them in sub-alpin to alpin level).

I would add rucola (Eruca sativa) and corn salad (Valerianella locusta, Nüsslisalat). Not really perennial, but they can easily self-propagate from year to year, if you don't cut them on late spring/start summer, when they are also less tasty.

True perennial: raspberry, possibly also some blueberries (but commercial one, as "large" bush requires sun). Few fruits tree can be keep in shadows and in a small size, but I don't think it is a simple task (you need to have an idea on how such plant grow and react to your cut).

Note: you listed "Parsley" which is not an perennial plant, but I think it is one of the best plant, which you can harvest near all year long (put it inside on winter).

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I'm pretty sure these will survive in your climate, I know these types to be very hardy, as they all grow even in Russia ;) just get bigger pots for them - Raspberries, blueberried honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea, there are varieties with bigger fruit ), Eleagnus Angustifolia is a self pollinating tree that can be kept small like my tree is 1.5 m. high and fruiting, and has soft sweet berries with almost no upkeep, Lingonberries, Blueberries, Black or red currants, Gooseberry, Aronia melanocarpa( Viking variety would be the best for fruit), Amelanchier alnifolia (variety Smokey has the biggest berries), Sea buckthorn (bushes with sour-sweet medicinal berries but you need both male and female plants)... Oh yeah and about the herbs..definitely get sorrel (smooth green sour leaves) preferably wild one but not necessary, chervil (both grow extremely easy from seeds), salad mustard, wild rocket, cucumber grass (borage and salad burnet), they all are hardy.

1- Lon. Caerulea 2-El. Angustifolia 3- Ar. Viking 4- Am. Smokey 5- Sea buckthorn

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  • See buckthorn is going to be very unhappy in a small pot. You'd have to do a lot, and I mean a lot of pruning and careful feeding - not too much because it doesn't like too rich soil, not too little because it has a confined root ball... end it definitely appreciatea sun. – Stephie Mar 21 '17 at 7:59
  • Stephie yeah I said in the beginning of my comment that they all need big pots :) Mine grow in the mix of sand, compost and soil, and they fruit. I haven't yet noticed any difficulties with them. Oh and here in Ireland we don't have much sun in general :) – user16928 Mar 21 '17 at 8:24
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If it's not too wet in your area, I highly recommend growing cacti. There are many kinds that could easily survive the cold in your winters. Cacti are great for containers (especially since containers dry out fast, and you kind of want them dry with cacti). Many cacti have edible fruit and pads.

I don't think they ship overseas, but you might look at Cold Hardy Cactus for some ideas. I recommend looking at those that can handle water the best, if you're not in an arid area (I assume it's not arid there). Opuntia humifusa types should work well. You might also try Escobaria missouriensis, as it's known to grow by rivers in Missouri (I imagine it's not particularly dry there).

Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) are perennial, cold hardy and edible (most people don't eat them, though).

You could try potato onions, bunching onions, and such as that. Potato onions are perennial onions that multiply every year.

You could probably find some citrus trees for your zone. At least some of them can do well in containers. Zone 8 isn't that cold (but make sure it really is zone 8; people like to say my zone in southwestern Idaho is anywhere between 5 and 7, but it's really zone 4, and if you plant for zone 7 here, your plants will most likely die the first winter). How high maintenance they are probably depends on your local pests (but pests aside, I don't imagine they should be that difficult for you).

Strawberries should do reasonably, although maintenance is probably considerably higher than cacti.

You might try a mulberry tree fit for a container. Some mulberries can be kept in containers. I'm not sure how hard it is to care for them, but they sound like they can be hardy trees. The fruit is edible, but the young leaves have herbal properties, too. The mature leaves can have some unpleasant side-effects, however.

Oregano is a perennial herb. We have some in a pot that survived our -21° winter this year. It can handle drought fairly well.

Russian tarragon seems to work pretty well.

Rhubarb is supposed to be easy to grow in containers (if they're deep enough). Remember, the leaves are toxic, though.

You might also consider annual plants that reseed easily, such as chamomile or calendula (it's an ornamental flower, but useful for iodine content, I've heard).

Some people like to grow dandelions in containers. They're edible, and perennial. They can look pretty nice when they're huge (people normally pull them up, and try to prevent them from prospering; so, you usually don't see them like that).

  • I do not agree on opuntia, mulberry and citrus. Here in Ireland these plants barely survive, if it all. Opuntia doesn't fruit here even if it stays alive. Citrus trees don't grow here at all unless in a greenhouse. All these plants need not just warm climate and sun, they need extra hot conditions.If our temperatures make them struggle, Switzerland wouldn't be much better. Well, they might survive but I really doubt they will give fruit. I have grown lemons, opuntias etc before, in a warmer country in scorching sun and they loved it. But Switzerland is not Mediteranian. Especially if th – user16928 Mar 21 '17 at 8:13

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