Photos: A walk through the ultimate California native garden
Daniel Gottlieb chuckles thinking back to when he first showed his bride-to-be the house in the late 1980s. “She looked at the back said, ‘It’s all covered with ivy. There’s nothing for the birds.’ ” By 1990, the ivy was on its way out and Susan Gottlieb began putting in a garden of California native plants chosen precisely because of their benefit to local fauna. Nearly 20 years later, native gardening is the model lauded by conservationists and water companies alike as the future for Los Angeles landscaping.
Keep clicking for a tour of the Gottlieb garden in Beverly Hills. Here, a hummingbird rests on a yucca. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
They say that beauty comes from within, but in the case of Susan Gottlieb, it seems to come from the world around her. She is, at 67, not pretty, not handsome, but storybook beautiful. The former nurse has such an Alice-in-Wonderland-like grace and lightness that as she hops around her 1-acre garden, enchantment sets in. When she first started planting native California flora, she was among the activists widely ridiculed for their penchant for needles and thorns. “I think people thought they were going to be stuck with a lot of cactuses and dry stuff,” she says. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
A series of terraces descends a steep hillside beyond the patio. She has bladder pods (she loves the harlequin bugs they attract), a kestrel house that has been colonized by bees, plus sages galore and sagebrush too. There are too many plants to list here, but she keeps a diligent accounting, also available on her website, http://www.gottliebgarden.com. Since she and friends from the Theodore Payne Foundation hatched the idea six years ago to to stage annual native garden tours, she also tags her plants religiously. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
California buckwheat. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Light paints a Peruvian torch. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
The Gottlieb garden is a mix of California natives and waterwise nonnatives. Here, an agave. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
A small patio overlooking a yawning canyon is dominated by a series of water features: fountains for birds and tree frogs, plus a small saltwater pool that she uses to rinse her hummingbird feeders. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
A native white sage, which blends with palo verde trees, native lilacs, matilija poppies and manzanita. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Fiber optic grass. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Native coyote brush. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Deer grass. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Gottlieb’s achievement would be notable if it had stopped with the gardening, but the more Gottlieb got into native horticulture, the more she learned about the impact of conventional gardening on Western watersheds and the cataclysmic effects for wildlife. A year ago, she and her husband opened the G2 Gallery in Venice. Dedicated to environmental photography, the proceeds of print sales go to a number of causes, including the Theodore Payne Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, Friends of Ballona Wetlands, Heal the Bay and the California Native Plant Society.
She regrets that these new projects take her from her garden. But as a seasoned native gardener, she knows half the point of native gardens is that, once in, they really don’t need much intervention.
Emily Green’s column on low-water gardening appears weekly on the L.A. at Home blog. She also blogs on water issues at www.chanceofrain.com. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)