BY A BABBLING BROOK

A keen gardener doesn't need three-and-a-half acres to create a traditional English garden,
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The Independent Online
You might reasonably wonder what a half-acre garden beside a modern village house can possibly have in common with the three-and-a-half acre walled garden of a stately home. The clue comes in the name of Anne and David Kinniment's house in Kirkwhelpington, a two-mile walk from Wallington across fields.

Called Sike View, it stands part way up a steepish incline at the east end of the village. A sike is a northern word for a stream. Whitridge Sike, which runs alongside the Kinniments' garden, is as dominant a feature as the stream is at Wallington.

When the couple moved here seven years ago, the lawn sloped sharply down to the bank of the sike. Their first major piece of landscaping was to reduce the slope by adding a terrace and a retaining wall, built by a local craftsman using stone from an old sheep pen. Between the wall and the bank of the stream is a flower bed that slopes more steeply than the lawn. In the stream - which can vary between a substantial torrent and a trickle, depending on the weather - small waterfalls have been built to so that it looks and sounds more alluring.

Anne, who is in charge of the garden, gets plenty of ideas from Wallington, although conditions are not exactly the same. Sike View is a hundred feet or so higher and gets strong winds off the hills. She is creating a natural hedge, with wild roses growing through it, in an attempt to block the wind from the north-west.

"The walled garden at Wallington is more sheltered and they grow things there I couldn't possibly grow," she says. "The streams are different, too - theirs gets a lot of sun but mine is shaded by trees. The trees are a mixed blessing - we have so many that it takes me two months to get the leaves up off the ground."

She believes her soil is more alkaline than Wallington's, perhaps because it is thin, with rock so close to the surface at some points that planting is difficult. There was once a gritstone quarry nearby, situated higher up the hill.

The shady border by the stream looks good in spring, with snowdrops, periwinkles, primroses, hostas and lamiums against a background of ferns. The sunnier border on the other side of the lawn is at its best in mid- summer, with flowers in soft pinks, blues and white - the blue Geranium magnificum and the pink Geranium endressii, along with aquilegias, polemoniums (Jacob's ladder), campanulas and Viola cornuta. Four shrub roses give a marvellous show here - the striped Rosa Mundi, Felicia and Celestial (both pink) and the white damask rose Mme Hardy.

Among the lessons Anne has drawn from the gardens at Wallington is the technique of under-planting shrubs and large herbaceous plants with bulbs and low-growing flowers such as allium, anemones and corydalis. Specific plants she has introduced as a result of her visits there include bergenias, erythronium (dog's tooth violet), euphorbias and penstemons. Some of these, notably the euphorbias, were set back by this year's extremely cold winter: there were eight substantial snowfalls, and for two days Anne and David were unable to get down to the village.

Also inspired by Wallington, she has made a small bed for winter colour near the house. She finds it hard to grow corylopsis and hamamelis, because they do not like the wind and would prefer a more acid soil; but hellebores thrive. She has followed the lead of the big garden by planting Erica carnea, the only lime-tolerant heather, although it goes slightly against her instincts.

"I prefer to see heather growing in the hills," she says - a philosophy that extends to much else that she has done here; for she is decidedly among those who see making a garden as forging a partnership with the environment, rather than keeping it at bay.

"I would say definitely that this is gardening within the natural landscape," she says. "I'm a wild life gardener really. We get mallards, herons, dipper and spotted flycatchers and we have wrens nesting in the garage. We also have rabbits, though I wish we didn't. I like foxgloves and hesperis [sweet rocket] and when they come up I leave them wherever they are."

To indulge her delight in wild flowers, she and David bought a corner of a farmer's field on the far bank of the sike and have made it into a meadow garden, with bluebells, snowdrops, celandine and charming miniature daffodils of a variety that may date back to Tudor times. The new area is not yet quite to her liking: "The trouble is that wild flowers get squeezed out by the prolific grass, and they find the soil a bit rich."

The Kinniments have achieved much in seven years, but their garden at Sike View is still a work in progress. Anne is developing the bottom end, where the white rambling rose Felicite et Perpetue entwines over an arch with pink Paul's Himalayan Musk. A long-term project is a bog garden in the hollow of the stream. Those who persist in the delusion that the north- east is inimical to good gardening should have a word with Anne Kinniment.

Sike View and six other gardens in Kirkwhelpington, Northumberland are open for charity on Sunday 30 June, 2-5pm. The pounds 1.50 admission charge covers all of them.

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