Welcome to December – and although the ground can be frozen and the days feel very chilly, we should appreciate that frosts are actually good for the garden, especially for breaking down recently cultivated heavy soils and killing a few pests and diseases.

It’s not too helpful, mind, if you’re growing tender plants as the foliage can be killed off, though the frosts have not permeated too deeply so hopefully the underground roots will be fine, especially if you have not had time to lift your dahlias or cannas.

Although some plants are classed as hardy, many do struggle when the temperature drops below minus five, and if you then add in the wind chill factor it’s not too surprising to see what look like hardy plants showing signs of wind scorch. If you are growing anything evergreen which could be susceptible, you can protect them by wrapping them up for the winter. In the old days this used to be by wrapping sacking around the plant,but today we have garden or horticultural fleece. You can actually get large garden fleece bags for pulling over the plant.

Fleece has other advantages over sacks in that it lets light through to the plant (I recall in the old days taking sacking off plants in the spring to find that the foliage had become pale yellow because of the lack of light). Most hardy deciduous plants should be fine and need little wind protection, but some plants such as the Japanese maples, even when deciduous, can be susceptible to wind damage. You will notice this when the buds break in the spring as part of the branch – in particular the tips fail to grow and on closer inspection you will find the branches tips dead. Again, wrapping the branches in garden fleece will help to protect the tips.

During frosty mornings, plants can look pretty sad as you can see from my photograph this week of my rather sad looking Echium candicans which is commonly known ‘Pride of Madeira’ – not that it’s looking proud just now! It’s an upright evergreen plant and will, if it overwinters, produce masses of blue flowers which are loved by pollinating insects. It normally recovers from a frost, though I have lost them in the past when the frost has been constant.

The frozen ground has given me the opportunity to sow more seeds in containers. I’ve been sowing a few sweet peas recently, though over the weekend I sowed a few seeds of Lathyrus vernus ‘Alboroseus’ which is also known as the ‘Spring Vetchling’. This is a dwarf flowering pea, only growing to around 30cm, though it is one the first to ornamental peas to flower in the spring. It is a small plant which becomes covered with many small pea flowers in a two-toned shade of white and pink – great for bringing early colour the patio garden or for planting at the front of the border. Also, it’s a perennial, which means it will grow back each year.

When sowing vetchling pea seeds, these need to be sown in groups, around 6 seeds or so in a 9cm pot, they are not sown individually in trays. You need grow a few seeds together, so it makes a clump that looks like a single plant, grown as individual seeds they are too spindly to form a decent plant.

Once sown they will take around 60-70 days to germinate, a little sooner if started off under cover such as an unheated greenhouse or shed. They will need light when germinated and then to be grown on in a sheltered part of the garden. As early spring approaches the seedlings will put on a spurt of growth where they can be planted out into their final positions for flowering the following spring.

They will flower for around a month then make pods with seed, and these can be collected and be sown for more plants. After making seed they will then die back for the summer so are best planted where later and taller-flowering plants can grow to cover and hide the fading foliage.

The genus name for the ornamental pea is “Lathyrus” (Greek for pea or pulse) while for the edible or garden pea it is “Pisum” (Celtic for pea). Despite being of different genera both the edible and ornamental peas belong to the legume family, which refers to the pods they all carry. However, to complicate things a little more, the family Leguminous is now known as Fabacea or more commonly the ‘bean family. So, there you have it - a pea is really a bean!