Summer and winter savory are two of the most aromatic and easy to grow Mediterranean herbs that should be in everyone’s garden. Both have hints of thyme and oregano, with just a little spiciness.
Traditionally these two plants were grown near bee hives, providing nectar for honey production. They also are great companion plants, because their aromatic essential oils help mask the scent of other plants, making it difficult for pests to locate their targets.
Summer and winter savory are dissimilar in life cycle and appearance, so are usually grown separately. Summer savory, an annual herb, grows best in rich soil, full of humus and with good drainage, so is often grown along with vegetables in the garden. It can fit in at the ends of your rows of vegetables, where it will grow into a bushy plant about 18 inches tall. With its lanky stems and narrow leaves, it is not one of the most beautiful herbs. However, its texture will complement larger leafed annual herbs like basil. If you have a separate annual herb bed, plant it there, alongside basil, marjoram and parsley. Throughout the summer, harvest this herb as required, taking off the growing tips to encourage growth.
On the other hand, winter savory is a hardy perennial herb, surviving in areas with temperatures down to -20F. It appreciates a less fertile but well drained soil, and can handle a moderate drought. With needle-like foliage that covers the stems quite thickly, it will grow into a thick mound about 12 inches tall. This neat bushy growth habit it makes a good edging plant. It can be planted with other perennial herbs like thyme and sage, or with your low growing perennials like dianthus and thrift. It even works well in rock gardens.
Start summer savory from seeds, indoors in early April. Don’t cover the seeds, since they need light to germinate. The seeds germinate quickly and the seedlings can be hardened off and planted outside when the weather is reliably frost-free. Winter savory is slow to germinate from seed, so you may be better to buy a healthy nursery plant or two. They can be placed in the garden in either spring or early fall. Once it is growing in the garden, it is easy to propagate from cuttings or layering, and as it ages and becomes woody, it will need dividing.
Neither savory needs much maintenance if you have provided the proper growing conditions. They are seldom bothered by insect pests or diseases. Summer savory will love a watering with fish emulsion to kick start regrowth after harvesting, but winter savory will thrive quite nicely all summer with just a little compost top dressing each spring.
Both savories are easy to harvest and preserve. Harvest summer savory throughout the summer and fall, and if you are going to preserve it for winter use, do so just before the plant flowers. Winter savory can be sheared any time, and the trimmings used right away or dried. Both savories are easy to dry, either in a dehydrator or by air drying. You can also remove the leaves from the stems and freeze them in bags. One other preservation method is to make a savory pesto by pureeing the leaves in a food processor with olive or safflower oil. Freeze the paste in ice cube trays, and pop the frozen cubes into freezer bags. You can then drop them into soups, stews or sauces.
Gardening expert Nicki Goff.