This morning the earth was covered by clouds filled with snow and mysterious fog. It reminded me that covering a garden isn't just about weather taking over, it's about creating the best environment a gardener can with what's at hand. Following is the tale of the garden cloche.
What is a cloche? Here’s some trivia that might help answer the question, or not. Angelina Jolie wore one in the movie Changeling. Ken Jennings lost to the question on Jeopardy for his 75th time. A cloche hat is a bell shaped form-fitting wool felt hat made popular, among other fashion frivolity, by 1920’s flappers.
But a cloche in the garden? A French creation, one piece of glass shaped like a bell with a top knob, was introduced to protect delicate early garden seedlings. Cloche means ‘bell’ in French. Romantic and picturesque it may be to gaze down a row of sprouts covered by glass cloches but the expense would wipe out a backyard garden budget.
A stroll through most kitchens could produce a quick solution. Collect 2-liter soda bottles and gallon milk jugs. Glass cloches had to be propped open so plants didn’t overheat, but plastic bottles make life easier: just remove the cap for a ready-made vent.
Here’s how to make your plastic jug cloche: cut along three sides of the bottom of the jug leaving the fourth side to be the hinge for the bottom. Place the jug over a garden seedling. Anchor the jug by placing a rock on the hinged bottom.
A tunnel cloche can be made of heavy wire and corrugated fiberglass. Bend wire to desired height to the shape of a hoop. The wire hoops are then placed over a length of fiberglass and pushed into the ground. Leave the ends open for air circulation. Further cloches are paper hotcaps and Walls O’ Water, both available at nurseries. Reemay row cover draped over heavy wire is another form of cloche.
Cloches fall into the garden category of season extenders. They provide the advantages of a greenhouse but the flexibility of being able to surround an individual plant or an outside growing bed. They are light-permeable plant covers that protect early plantings from frost. Cloches work the same as a greenhouse in that they let the sun’s rays in to warm the soil and air inside. The soil collects the heat, helping to fight off frost. Another benefit is, of course, that the heat encourages plant root growth. Covering plants also discourages predation from wind, insects, birds, and small animals.
Best season extenders in my own garden have been red walls ‘o water and reemay pot bonnets, as I call them. Both of these products I purchased at Territorial Seed Company in Oregon. Shop online: http://www.territorialseed.com/. The red water walls seem to collect heat better than the green walls, thus encourage quicker growth when placed around tomato, eggplants, and pepper plants.
Since I grow veg in black metal feed barrels, I use large peony plant stands as structures inside walls o’ water and to hold pot bonnets. The bonnets are heavy reemay shaped like a shower cap with a drawstring. The bonnets can be quickly put over growing pots when frost, hail, or extreme winds are predicted. These bonnets have saved my garden bacon, over and over!
Growing plants in a Rocky Mountain Zone 4 climate (diving to Zone 3 unexpectedly) requires ingenuity, stamina, and courage. A cloche in your garden tool quiver can be a savior. Dressing my exposed, windswept raised beds in glass cloches is a whimsical fantasy of monumental proportion. I tell myself that I have to settle for practicality. But, one French glass cloche covering a treasured Cinnamon Basil plant might settle that romantic desire this coming growing season.