The Spiritual Gardener: The Wildflowers of Kelowna

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I am sorry to have to do this, but today I am going to reveal one of Canada’s best-kept secrets, something most Canadians know about but few Americans do. And it is that one of the most beautiful places in this country, which has so much natural beauty in it, is the Okanagan Valley in southern British Columbia.

There, the Okanagan River forms Lake Okanagan, a broad 90-mile-long sheet of water that lies between pine and fir-covered mountains of great majesty.  It looks like Lake Constance in Europe but is even more dramatically sited, if that is possible, because of the mountains that form the Okanagan Valley. The valley itself has a very mild micro-climate, both in summer and in winter, making it a haven for Canadians who need a respite from that country’s sometimes rather trying winters. Its mild climate allows it to be a successful fruit-growing region, and it is justly famous for its wines. Imagine Napa Valley but with mountains instead of hills and a spectacularly scenic lake in the middle of the valley. Probably right after God had practised on Napa, He turned His perfected skill to the Okanagan.

I have just returned from there, having escorted my mother to visit my sister who lives there, on the occasion of my mother’s 80th birthday. We flew in to Spokane and then drove five hours through rather spectacular scenery to Kelowna, the main British Columbian town on the lake. We swam and kayaked in the lake, went on winery tours and took a very long hike in the mountains. The northern forests are alive with wildflowers at this time of year, for this is the peak of their very short but intense growing season.

We have seven to eight months of floral display at just above sea level where we live in the mid-Atlantic but, in the mountains of B.C., the peak blooming season is compressed to just a few weeks, and what a treat it is to be there at exactly the right time.


Lupines (pictured left) are rioting in the northern forests there. We saw carpets and carpets of them in the woodland shade, most of them a vivid purple but some a light blue. I have a soft spot for this lovely flower, as I have amply demonstrated by repeated references to them here, and to see them by the myriad does not lessen their charm in any way. Rather the reverse.




We saw carpets, also, of yarrow, mostly white but then some yellow as well. And everywhere one turned there were sheets and sheets of pink phlox, sometimes covering whole hillsides. All three of these gorgeous plants – lupines, yarrow and phlox – are represented in my own garden, but what a thrill to see them grown on this immense scale by the acre and the mountainside.

When my sister stopped to tie her shoe, I looked down and saw a clump of clover and wondered idly if there were a four-leaf clover in the clump and, just then, that very thing caught my eye. The last time I saw a four-leaf clover, I was 24 and tramping through the highland heather in Scotland somewhere north of Inverness. I was waiting for my exam results from Oxford and was rather worried about them, and the sympathetic woman I was boarding with gave it to me in the hope that my results would turn out all right. It’s no secret that four-leaf clovers have a bit of magic in them and, sure enough, the magic rubbed off and I did fine.

Anyway, it had been ages since I was last in B.C. Then, I worked for a different media tycoon than I do now and I was on the board of a Canadian media company we had made a major investment in, for which I was responsible. This company decided to take the board of directors to a spectacular fishing camp it owned on the West Coast, so we flew into Prince Rupert, B.C., on the company jet, which I have to say is a pretty wonderful way to travel. It occurred to me that it was a good thing that my wife wasn’t along on that trip; she would likely have tried to legislate what she calls a family tradition – but what is, in reality, a family rule – that she would only travel on private planes from then on.

After landing in Prince Rupert on the West Coast, we transferred to a sea plane that took us to the remote fishing camp, really a kind of luxury wilderness resort, which was accessible only by boat or seaplane. We fished for salmon and halibut all day and, of course, the fishing was world class. Then we would return to camp in the evening and get cleaned up for wonderful dinners that featured the fish we had caught, together with some pretty fantastic wines. And the stars from the end of the dock! There was next to no ground light, of course, and the air was cold and clear. It was this same time of year, late August, and the air was washed by the meeting of five thousand miles of Pacific Ocean and about a thousand miles of Canadian pine forest. Glorious.

On the last day, the sun shone strongly and we were treated to a full, open view of the marine landscape we had been living and fishing in: steep fir-clad mountainsides plunging down to the sea, seals sunbathing on the rocks, killer whales breaching it seemed from sheer joy, bald eagles wheeling overhead. It was pure magic, Canada at its rather spectacular best, and unforgettable.

Returning to the present trip to B.C., we came home after our long hike in the mountains and made a wonderful dinner. Possibly our hike made the food taste better than it was, but I don’t think that was it. Try this for yourself and see what you think. It features quinoa, a long underrated grain that is finally coming into its own and having a bit of a moment. This useful grain, like those other two great staples of the New World, corn and potatoes, comes to us from the genius of the Incas, who cultivated them all. It is not properly a cereal, inasmuch as it is not a member of the grass family, and instead is closely related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds, of all things. But 14 per cent of its mass is protein, and it is also a great source of calcium, two things that make this a critical foodstuff for vegetarians and, especially, vegans. Besides, it has a nutty taste and a pleasant texture, though you have to spice it up a bit with the things you add to it.

Here is how they do it in Kelowna. We call it Kelowna Quinoa, which is really fun to say, and even better to eat.

Click through for the recipe for Kelowna Quinoa.

Kelowna Quinoa


14 oz. quinoa

5 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock

2 tsp. salt

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 medium onion

2 medium zucchinis

1½ lbs. mushrooms

1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1 tbsp. red pepper flakes

2 tbsp. fresh chopped rosemary

8 oz. chopped pecans

1 cup chopped dried apricots or a can of mandarin orange slices


  1. In a strainer, thoroughly wash the quinoa under running tap water.  Put 4½ cups of the stock in a medium saucepan (reserving the last half cup) with one teaspoon of the salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the washed quinoa and bring the mixture to a steady boil. Cover tightly and reduce heat to low; simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for at least 10 more minutes. (For best results, it is important not to lift the lid until all the moisture has been absorbed.)
  2. Mince the garlic fine and sauté it in olive oil with the onion, until the onion is just tender. Cut each zucchini into four pieces lengthwise, then chop up the long pieces into a rough dice; add these to the onion and garlic and cook until tender. Put this mixture aside in a large bowl.  Chop the mushrooms; it will look like far too much, but they are all needed for flavor.  Sauté the mushrooms uncovered in the last half cup of stock and a little more olive oil until tender and the fluid makes a nice rich gravy.  Add the mushrooms to the zucchini.
  1. When the quinoa is finished, fluff it with a fork and add to the vegetables. Then add the remaining teaspoon of salt, the black and the red pepper, and the rosemary, and combine.  hen add the apricots or mandarin orange slices for a touch of sweetness. This is the point at which you can also get creative with spices, without taking much risk. You can make this dish more lively with curry powder or Szechuan spice to taste, for example. Lastly, heat a dry sauté pan over medium heat; toast the pecans, stirring often. Sprinkle the toasted pecans over the quinoa just before serving.  Serves 6 to 8.


This is hearty enough to be a main dish, but you can also halve this recipe and use it as a side. It has so much grain and vegetable value that it can readily be served as a single accompaniment to a main meat dish and it is ideal with crisply fried trout or other fish. You don’t have to actually be in British Columbia to relish this magical dish, but it couldn’t hurt. And it’s no secret that plenty of a delicious wine on hand, ideally from B.C., too, can make the evening even more magical.


 David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.