I first began to notice them last fall when school shopping for my daughter. Some of the more trendy clothing shops were selling glass terrariums like the ones I remembered from my childhood in the ’70s. Small, glass bell jars with sedums and multi-colored rocks filled the dorm rooms of mostly female college students across the country in those days. They were expensive but admittedly pretty cute; I was intrigued. I decided to create one as a housewarming gift for my daughter and headed off to the garden center to purchase the required materials.
As with most DIY projects I attempt, the result was not as attractive as the ones I had seen in the store, and by the time I added up my time and costs, it was also far more expensive. I chalked that project up as a fail and moved on until I saw another type of “garden” at a friend’s house.
Hers was not a living garden but a collection of precious items housed in a beautiful glass jar that she called a “cloche.” I knew from my rudimentary French that “cloche” means “bell” and is pronounced ‘klosh.’ The glass does resemble a bell shape with a fanned out base and the knob on top. She explained that she changed out the contents with the seasons and enjoyed the ritual and beauty of her cloche garden. Being without a green thumb, I sensed this approach was a better fit for me. It was nearing the holidays, and I decided that creating a cloche garden for a dear friend was the perfect DIY gift.
You can purchase a cloche online or at many of the chain home décor stores in most cities. They can range from very inexpensive plastic to expensive, fine glass versions. I was determined to find a nice inexpensive one that would have some character.
I headed to Courtyard Antiques and was delighted when the person manning the cash register knew exactly what I was looking for and gave me several spots to explore. Courtyard Antiques appears to be one giant store of fabulous furniture, treasures and décor, but it actually consists of many small vendors that are all housed in the same location. Several of the vendors had different style cloches from very simple glass to ornate crystal. It was hard not to spend several hours, looking at everything from vintage ornaments to antique clocks.
It was finally time to design my cloche garden. I had decided on a winter-themed look and went to Thompsons’ Furniture Company to see what they might have on the shelves. The name Thompsons’ Furniture is somewhat misleading. While they do carry a ton of gorgeous furniture, they also have an extensive array of home décor items. It wasn’t long before I located a beautiful small red cardinal. I have always loved cardinals. They stay for the winter season when most other birds migrate south. Their fiery red feathers symbolize life in the wintry darkness. I also picked up a package of small nests. It was time to head home and assemble my garden scene.
First, I went into my own backyard and found several small twigs that I trimmed to the height of the bell jar. It was at this point that I realized my cloche had not come with a stand. I needed something to assemble my scene upon before enclosing it into its winter home. Determined not to make the mistake I had made last fall, spending more money than I needed to, I enlisted the help of my husband. He cut some small rounds from a felled tree in our pasture. I then sanded them, and I had the perfect stand and even a few extras for holding candles or using as serving trays. The best part is that they were free.
Armed with everything I needed, I assembled the scene, using twigs and moss, wiring the beautiful red cardinal to one of the branches. I added some pinecones and the nest, gently pressing everything into a small square of green garden foam that I had found in my garage. Recycled styrofoam from a package would have worked as well. Sitting back to admire my work, I was then mocked by my children for doing “old lady” projects. Unfazed, I pressed on, adding some spray snow to complete the scene.
My dear friend loved the gift and displayed it proudly throughout the holiday season. I was thrilled to learn that later she had replaced the cardinal with a blue bird and changed out the branches for some with promising buds for the upcoming spring season. Perhaps when summer comes, she will fill the cloche with sand and some shells from the beach. The possibilities are endless, which is really the whole point.