So, there we were last week in Thomas Jefferson's incredible 80'x1000' vegetable garden, and my sons asked me about those terracotta things in some rows. Maybe self-watering contraptions? I would have to find out, and I would not sleep until I did. Not.
|In Monticello's garden 7/5/13|
Back home with my downloaded photo I learned that these terracotta gizmos were cloches, also known as bell jars. That's when things got crazy.
- : a transparent plant cover used outdoors especially for protection against cold
- : a woman's close-fitting hat usually with deep rounded crown and narrow brim
|Great-aunt Emma's clock|
|Cover 1st U.S. edition|
|Mom had one of these.|
|Diving bell, not Jacques Cousteau|
So, what is a bell jar? What are those terracotta containers? Where is my hat?
type of bell jar, 1882, from French cloche "bell, bell glass" (12c.), from Late Latin clocca "bell" (see clock (n.1)). As a type of women's hat, recorded from 1907, so called from its shape.
It's so cool that this one word, cloche, relates to bells, hats, and clocks. Cloche hats were in style about 1908-1938. The fitted, bell-shaped hats could have brims down near the eyes, or turned up. I turned up some wild hat photos of my Auntie Em, but no flapper cloches.
Plath uses the bell jar image to evoke bad dreams, lab experiments, and stewing in our own sour air. Many bell jars for the garden are equipped with an adjustable air vent. In lab experiments a bell jar can be used to create a vacuum. Specimen jars and physics experiment images appear often in Plath's novel, which I finally read last night and this rainy morning. The novel's description of descent into insanity and life in sanitariums is as chilling as Bly's, and maybe together they are too much for just one week.
Jefferson's terracotta cloches could incubate young plants from late frosts, protect them from birds, insects, deer, slugs, high winds, and hail. They were used to blanch vegetables to get a delicate flavor and texture bykeeping them in the dark. Apparently this Founding Father liked his sea kale white.
Glass garden cloches are more decorative, but just as practical. They warm the soil and hasten germination. I learned a great deal Barbara Wells Sarudy's Early American Gardens blog, and have placed a link in the right sidebar.
© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder