Updated: Mar 29, 2022
Spring is in the air in Basel, which means it’s time to get into the garden! If you are new to gardening here're some helpful tips to get you started.
What to Plant
Flowers and vegetables are both possible in Basel. In general, vegetables require more tending time and space than flowers, but there are exceptions. I suggest thinking about a few key factors before you decide what to plant:
Your goal: Are you looking to create a little beauty in your space or do you want to eat what you grow? There are also plants that give you both (nasturtiums produce colourful, edible flowers that are delicious in salads).
Your time: How often do you want to tend to your garden? If you don’t mind doing daily or every other day checks then you could combine both flowers and veggies, but if you want to just plant it and let it fend for itself, perhaps stick to hearty perennial or annual flowers.
Your zone: Every place in the world falls in a plant hardiness zone, which is a standard that tells gardeners what plants are likely to thrive where they live. Basel is in zone 8A.
Your light: Plants need sun, but not all require (or want) the same amount. Pay attention to how much light your space gets throughout the day and look for plants that will thrive in that type of exposure.
Your soil: Soil types vary from loose and sandy to heavy and more clay like, which affects how plants will grow. Take a look at your soil, or better yet, buy a test kit at the garden store to determine the pH and mineral content of your soil. That way you can buy plants that prefer your soil type.
Where to Plant
There are three main spaces for planting: in pots in your home, in raised beds or containers on your balcony or directly in a garden.
Houseplants and Container Gardens
Houseplants are a great way to get started with gardening. All you need is a sunny window to add a nice pop of green to your home and if you pick some easy plants to start with, you are well on your way to cultivating a green thumb.
Container gardens are another great option and can add some life to patio spaces and balconies. They require a bit more space, but hold their moisture better than pots and give you control over what soil you use. They are also suitable for growing vegetables. You can buy fully constructed sets at places like OBI, or if you are even more ambitious you can make your own at Neue Freizeit Werkstatt.
A few things to consider when starting out are the following:
Soil is one of the most important factors for success. Make sure to use a good quality garden soil that is specific for your use (vegetables, flowers, cactus etc.)
It is very important that any container you use, either for houseplants or container gardens has good drainage. This means that the containers or pots either need to have drainage holes or you need to provide drainage in other ways. If you use a container or pot that does not haver a drainage hole, you can either keep the plant it its original plastic pot as an insert (assuming the plant is not root bound) or place some stones at the bottom of the container before you add soil, which will create some space for excess water. You can find some more tips here.
Houseplants can be very finicky with water so there is no rule of thumb and it it very dependent on the type of plant. Make sure to research the type of plant you have to determine its watering needs. Containers on balconies and patios tend tor dry out quickly so make sure you have time to accommodate a watering schedule, which in the height of summer can be once or even twice daily.
It is inevitable that you will get pests, but that is just a part of gardening. Luckily we have some solutions for you with this article, Bugging Out in Basel.
If you have a yard, garden planting has some advantages, namely you don’t need to buy any containers and can start with the soil you’ve already got. However there are a few ways to ensure success:
Supplement your soil. Before planting, mix some compost or appropriate potting mix into the existing soil to give your new plants some more nutrients as they get started.
Don't plant too early. It is tempting to clean up and plant your garden as soon as you smell that first whiff of spring, but make sure to wait until the weather is consistently warm. The old leaves and dying plants are actually an important habitat for insects and bees. Also you don't want to spend money on a bunch of plants only to have them die from a late spring frost. This article can walk you through your spring garden clean up.
Read the plant tags. Those little tags in the pots are not just decorative, they are a wealth of information, indicating the amount of sun exposure and water a plant needs as well as when the plant should be planted and when it will flower.
Water and fertilize. Rain showers will most likely take care of your watering needs in the spring, but as the weather gets warmer you will have to come up with a watering schedule. In the peak of summer this can mean watering everyday. If you have a large garden, sprinkler systems can help with this task. Fertilizer comes in many forms and you can choose from a number of organic options in stores. Make sure to read the instructions on the label, but this is something that is normally done monthly.
Pest control. Once you plant your garden you will have to check it frequently to make sure it is not overrun by pests. Slugs for instance are a major problem in Basel and you must be diligent to keep them at bay (I will expand on this more in another article).
Where to Buy Plants
There are a lot of options for buying plants in the Basel region:
Coop and Migros: Coop and Migros both have a good selection of herbs, flowers and house plants as well as smaller bags of potting mix and fertilizer.
JUMBO and OBI: If you want a larger selection of plants and more than just flowers, these larger home improvement stores are a good source. This is also a good place to pick up soil, compost and fertilizer.
Garden Centres: For a larger stores that are focused specifically on gardening, landscaping and outdoor spaces, best to go to a garden centre. Here are a few in the Basel area:
Urbanroots Schweiz specializes in urban gardening and has everything to help a newbie gardener, including workshops.
Landi stores focus on low prices and high quality and try to source from Switzerland and Europe as much as possible.
Wyss is a little more pricy, but has large and diverse assortment of plants and helpful staff.
Gartnerei Alleman is a lovely and large greenhouse in Witterswill (Baselland) offering a large assortment of flowers and vegetables along with some smaller garden decorations.
Biogärtnerei am Hirtenweg in Riehen has a good selection of bio plants, including a nice assortment of vegetable and herb seedlings as well as quality compost. The selection is at its best in spring so don’t wait until too late in the planting season to make a visit.
Some Final Tips
I’m not an expert, but have had some success in the garden over the past ten years of trial and error planting. Here are a few tips that have helped me grow as a gardener:
Look Around. I am constantly checking out my neighbours’ gardens to see what they are growing. A stroll through the many garden allotments in the city can also show you what is possible in this region.
Do your research. There are a ton of books and online resources for checking out different types of plants and how to grow them. I’ve experimented with apps like PlantIn and Gardentags too, which can help you identify a plant and help you understand what care will be necessary.
Ask for help: Most gardeners are more than happy to share tips and tricks. Reach out to your friends, family, local garden shop or Swiss neighbors to see what’s worked for them. Also, there is a great Facebook Group called Gardening in Switzerland that has all sorts of helpful information and resources.
Experiment and have fun: Don’t be afraid to plant different things and see how they do! You never know, you may find some weird green that you love to eat or discover a new, aromatic flower that flourishes.
Take a moment for gratitude: For me gardening is a wonderful way to connect with nature and focus my mind. I even keep a gardening journal where jot down what I planted and how it grew - less as an exercise in documenting the garden, but more about slowing down and noticing life around me.
I hope this post provides some helpful tips and inspiration to start your own gardening adventure! Have some other insights to share? Please leave a comment.