Glass cloches as they were originally used: as season-extenders for the garden. Photo: http://www.haxnicks.co.uk
Cloches got their name because the original ones were shaped like a bell (cloche means bell in French). Indeed, they’re often known as bell jars. The classic cloche was made of heavy glass and was first used as a gardening tool in 19th century France, in fact, sometimes on a vast scale. You could once see row after row of them in market gardens near Paris.
A cloche acts like miniature individual greenhouse, capturing heat during the day and storing it overnight. You use them to cover tender plants in the spring and thus get a few weeks head start on the season, then again in the fall, to protect cold-intolerant plants and give them, again, a few weeks more useful life before frost inevitably does them in.
To be honest, glass cloches are rarely used in the garden these days: they’ve largely been replaced by plastic products like floating row cover and greenhouse tunnels. The problem with glass cloches is they’re heavy and difficult to stack, taking up a lot of space in the off-seasons. Even so, you can still find glass cloches in speciality garden shops, notably on-line.
You can also find them these days in kitchenware stores, where they’re now found a new use as display cases for baked goods and cheeses.
If you have a few glass cloches stored away, get them out and use them for your houseplants. They create a greenhouse effect: plants grown under them will profit from exceptionally high humidity. They’ll be especially useful in winter when dry indoor air otherwise causes much damage, from wilting to dying back to brown leaf tips to simple failure to thrive. Smaller, humidity-loving houseplants, like ferns, episcias, baby’s tears and prayer plants, will positively prosper under them. And since plants recycle the air they breathe, no, they won’t “suffocate” under glass.
They can also be used for maintaining plants when you’ll be absent for long periods. Under a cloche, since the plants lose no water to evaporation, no watering will be needed for months!
You can also create beautiful and easy-to-manage terrariums using a cloche. Cover a tray with potting soil, arrange your plants as you see fit (you’ll need small ones), water very lightly and drop the cloche over them. Stunning!
There are plastic cloches these days as well, just as useful as the old-fashioned glass ones in the garden and far more stackable; plus they too can be used indoors in the off-season. And they’re cheaper, too. Still, they just aren’t as charming as the old glass ones, are they?