Susan and Dan Gottlieb share their backyard with bobcats, gopher snakes, hummingbirds, dragonflies, cottontail bunnies, lizards, bats, and an occasional coyote. Just five-minutes by car to downtown Beverly Hills, their backyard has no trace of metropolis. Guests to their home are surprised to find a Garden of Eden so close to the city. The yard, which measures just under an acre, has been designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
When Susan and Dan purchased the ranch home in 1986, Susan was determined to transform the backyard into a home for animals. At the time, the Gottliebs were new to gardening. “I read just about every book I could find on the subject of native plants,” she says.
Benefits of Bugs
“The yard was not a mess,” says Susan. “It just had a lot of ivy in it and was landscaped with tropical plants. If you like that kind of thing and don’t mind a lot of water usage, it works.” These plants, according to Susan, don’t appeal to native insects either. “Insects are the basis for everything,” she explains. “They pollinate and provide food, and are reluctant to accommodate themselves to nonnative plants. The non-natives just don’t provide enough food for them, and without the insects, we wouldn’t have the birds and other animals they draw to the yard.”
A backyard filled with insects doesn’t seem appealing to most people. However, Susan explains that the bees are so small that they are not intimidating, and the mosquitoes are basically nonexistent. “Mosquitoes and other insects are eaten by the birds, lizards, and bats that inhabit the garden,” she says.
Also enjoying the yard are the Gottliebs’ four cats, Spike, Shadow, Angel, and Cleopatra–who is called Queen of the Cathouse. The cat run, which starts from a few entrances in the house, travels up and over the roof and into the garden. It provides shelter from predators and a place for the cats to run and do what they like best–snooze in a warm sun soaked spot.
Shadow in the cat run.
Since building the cat run only once did a raccoon get in; Dan shooed it out. Another time, while Susan and Dan were out enjoying the garden, they heard loud hisses coming from inside the house. Their four cats, ranging in ages from 8 and 10, surrounded a large gopher snake. “Gopher snakes look a lot like rattlesnakes without the rattles and venom,” says Susan.
Using a big stick, Dan picked it up, placed it in the garden, and watched it slither away. “While we don’t want them in our house, it’s good to see them in the garden because they keep rattlesnakes away,” says Susan.
When Susan is not out in the backyard, she spends time at the gallery she owns with Dan. Their G2 Gallery, located on Venice’s fashionable Abbot Kinney Boulevard, is filled with photographs of wildlife. Proceeds from the gallery go to wildlife causes.
Since 1973, the NWF has issued just over 110,000 NWF Habitat Certificates to people who live in cities, small towns, and rural areas. This number includes residential backyards, community gardens, farms, and school, library, and town hall green spaces.