By age 11, Ryan Donohoe was already entrenched in the business of plants. He had landed his first job sweeping up dirt and debris at a local plant nursery, working under the table for an old family friend. Donohoe toured the aisles of perennials on evenings and weekends, re-reading the labels and noting botanical names alongside his regular schooling. By 18, he was supervising work teams and teaching new employees the importance of irrigation and annual seedling maintenance.
“I guess I got stuck in nature at a young age,” Donohoe says. “My parents had always been interested in gardening, but the chance to really understand the specificity of plants—how they behave—that amazed me as a kid. It still does.”
His work at the nursery had granted Donohoe an early understanding of how to build a great team. Primarily, he knew he needed to work with people who want to be incredible at what they do. His first company, Nor-Wes Landscape, wasn’t content hiring university students looking for a summer of work. He sought out people who wanted to be a part of the industry and endeavoured to give them an opportunity to do a great job—the only thing that should matter to an employee who seeks longevity in her field. Donohoe’s focus on good work and great people has carried through to his current job as the principal of his landscape design firm, Donohoe Design.
Donohoe’s commitment to creating beautiful gardens and backyards goes beyond the desire to be great or recognized. To him, the crucial tenet of his company’s approach to projects is creating an evolving experience for the client. “[Landscape design] goes so far beyond the job being finished,” he explains. “A truly great design evolves alongside the person that tends it. It moves with the seasons. It adapts to their needs, gives them pockets of personality and tranquility. A really great piece of work surprises you every season, but also brings comfort with the return of something they really loved coming back into bloom.”
Nothing if not thorough, Donohoe attended London’s world-renowned Inchbald School of Design before opening Donohoe Design. Just as the passionate chef goes to France or Italy to learn how to cook, the garden aficionado schools in England; the opportunity to study under widely respected designers left a lasting impression on Donohoe of the powers and mysteries that the natural world still has in store.
It was also in England that Donohoe was introduced to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show: essentially the Paris Fashion Week of landscape architects and designers. To be selected as an exhibitor is to have arrived as a distinct voice in the design community—an honour that Donohoe strives to achieve for himself and his team. It lives as a permanent goal in their office, scribbled in the upper corner of the communal whiteboard: a quiet, insistent reminder.
Since beginning Donohoe Design in 2012, Donohoe and his team have predicated the business on pushing boundaries and working with the clientele to build spaces that are as personal as they are unique. Still hungry to experiment and innovate, he understands that his design ambitions need a strong business model to rely on. “I have so many ideas and concepts that I want to put to work, but for them to be pulled off—really extraordinary—I need to keep surrounding myself with great people, and bettering myself as a businessman,” Donohoe explains. His goals for 2017 include landing an international project; having spent three years overseas, his style has always bent towards global influence.
“At the end of my career, what I want most is to be recognized as a great employer, and to have given myself and my team the opportunity to achieve mastery in our field,” asserts Donohoe. “Ultimately, I want us all to feel like we have purpose in this business that is greater than ourselves.”
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