If I were Catholic and this was a confessional, I'd have to admit here that I've long had a hankering to obtain and use a real cloche in my garden. Hankering? Okay, call it a barely controllable lust. Pictures of beautiful classic bell-shaped glass cloches placed over perfect green tender foliage always light my soul on fire. I've never, however, been able to physical and financially acquire the real thing, substituting instead plastic milk jugs or recycled bottles of large size when I needed protection for baby plants. I've always viewed the latter as poor tradeoffs, about as rewarding as eating dinner with your sister instead of dancing the night away with Marilyn Monroe. Real, heavy, gorgeous glass cloches, though, have always been just too expensive for my budget.
Up until now, that is. This weekend I wandered into the local Hobby Lobby to find that their large clear glassware, including two large heavy glass cloches, were all on sale for 50% off. If I borrow J. Allen Hynek's classification for UFO encounters, I therefore just had a cloche encounter "of the fourth kind," or one that involved abduction (me) into the world of the Cloche. Many gardeners have had a cloche encounter of the first kind (where they might have glimpsed one at a distance) or of the second kind (actually up close and warming the earth beneath it) or even the third kind (with a tender plant actually covered and being protected by a cloche), but few are lucky enough to be proud glass cloche owners. I joined that group with a quick local purchase and then added three more cloches from a weekend trip that included a visit to two more regional Hobby Lobby stores. so I now have a thriving set of cloche quintuplets inhabiting my garden.
And just in time. The first snow of the season hit Kansas on Monday, as the pictures of these 16 inch tall cloches illustrate (the second with a little snow knocked-off so you can see it better). Somewhere beneath the drifts, my glass sanctuaries already protect some fall-planted Gallica bands hybridized by Paul Barden and a rooted 'Prairie Harvest' start from last spring. And my winter landscape looks a little less like a milk-jug garden and more like somebody is gardening with a little class.
Cloche is the French word for "bell," referring to the classic shape. For those uninitiated, a cloche acts like a miniature cold frame, controls temperature and humidity around young plants, and protects them against insects, wind, frost, hail, turkeys, and wayward dogs. The Internet describes the real cloche as being either of vague French origin or as having been invented in Italy in 1623, but my bet is on the French because of the name and because a plant in the French climate is more likely to need the protection than one in Tuscany. Many gardeners, like myself, have rationalized for years that plastic milk jugs and jars are adequate and perhaps even preferable, but all of us know, deep down, that a good, heavy glass cloche is what we have always really craved. There are commercial bell-shaped plastic garden cloches available at reasonable prices, and one can make a decent home-made garden cloche that looks nice, but in my Kansas winds, I need something heavy enough to stay put instead of tumbling along to the Atlantic. Besides, I'm tired of picking up pieces of weathered, shattered milk jugs from my mulch.
So, if you're also seeking a cloche encounter of the fourth kind, watch for the next Hobby Lobby sale cause this one ended last weekend. If you're in Kansas, you are just out of luck anyway since I bought all the cloches currently available in the state.