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What is a Cloche

what is a clocheWhat is a cloche? Apparently you have asked yourself  this very same question. Well dear reader, you have stumbled upon the right place. When I put this question to my friend he answered immediately and with certainty that it is the beautiful, silver lid that covers room service orders. Obviously not relative to our purpose here but he is indeed correct.

The word ‘cloche’ is French, meaning simply ‘bell’. Earlier origins are found in the Medieval Latin word ‘clocca’, or clock. Today the word cloche is used in many ways, typically when something is bell-shaped such as a hat or a food covering.

Particular to gardening,  a cloche is a type of cover used to provide protection to plants in adverse weather conditions such as frost and may also be used to hasten plants to maturity. Imagine a miniature, mobile, greenhouse if you will. The cloche may be put to use over a single flower or rows of crops.

The French originated the cloche, constructing it of glass in the shape of a dome or bell, hence the name.  The Dutch and the English expanded on the use of this glass bell jar, or cloche, by creating glass paned covers with cast iron frames and giving variety to the shape, introducing pyramids and rectangular housings.

Earliest documentation regarding the use of the cloche can be found in John Evelyn’s Elysium Britannicum, circa 1630, where he lists the bell jar as a mandatory tool for any gardener of merit.

Now that we have determined a fundamental answer to your question of ‘what is a cloche’, we will move on to look more closely at why a cloche might be used in the gardening world of today.

Modern gardeners use cloches for a variety of reasons, not much different than those of our gardening forefathers. Often the cloche is used to prolong a growing season, being placed over plants that have not had quite enough time to mature. The cloche will then allow for growth to continue into the colder months, well after the first frost arrives. When the cloche is placed over seeds or young plants at the start of a season, the cloche will help to hasten the plant’s early development by trapping and fully utilizing the heat and moisture. In winter the cloche can be used to provide vulnerable plants protection from freezing rain, snow, and hard frost.

Another interesting use of the cloche is to divert rain from the soil directly surrounding the neck of a plant to the soil a few inches away, where the roots of the plant can maximize the absorption. Roots tend to grow sideways and outward thus rainwater that is directed a few inches outward from the plant base will be most beneficial to the plant.

Today’s cloche comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. The traditional glass, bell-jar, cloche is still used not only in a functional way but also for decoration, indoors and out. Plastic is most widely used in the construction of the modern cloche. A simple cloche might be half of a plastic soda bottle! You can easily construct your own cloche or purchase one at your local nursery or home goods store.

So, what is a cloche? Is it a popular 1920’s style hat? Yes! Is it the beautiful silver lid keeping your room service order hot? Yes! Perhaps a small clay oven used in baking a single loaf of bread? Right again! However, as we have discovered and most important to dear reader, the gardening cloche is an extremely useful tool, mandatory even according to John Evelyn, for the determined gardener.

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