Donna Matako was embarking on a career as a nurse when she decided to trade patients for perennials.
In 1995, she opened a full-service landscaping business (originally D&M Landscaping). After some initial pushback—customers didn’t always expect to find a woman digging up their yard—her business took off.
After a bout with cancer, Matako embraced being a woman-owned business and rebranded as The Lady Bug.
Matako and her 27-person crew do everything including landscaping, lawn care, mowing, tree trimming and patio building. On snowy mornings, Matako heads out to customers’ homes to shovel driveways by hand.
“We do a little extra something each place we go,” she said. “We go above and beyond a typical landscaper.”
The Lady Bug Garden Center and Gift Shop opened a few years ago. It’s packed with unique, bespoke items from Ohio creators—Matako hand selects the inventory—with an emphasis on the sustainable and organic. Several products are from other woman-owned businesses. And all of her plants are from Ohio and acclimated to the climate.
At Christmas, Matako invites families to the garden center to spend an afternoon with Santa. In the warmer months, it becomes a gathering place for classes, free concerts, car shows and the occasional wedding.
I asked Matako to tell me a bit more about her business and give her advice for perfecting your own lawn.
How did you go from nursing to The Lady Bug?
I remember a turning point when I was sitting in one of my (classes)… I recall looking out the window, it was spring, and seeing the workers on the lawn mowing the grass, trimming the bushes. I lost myself in that somehow. So when (the professor) came to me and asked a question, I didn’t have an answer … I thought, maybe this is a sign. So I graduated from college with an RN. I decided to take some time to see if this outdoors thing is really me. And I never looked back. I’ve never been regretful at all. This is my passion.
What makes The Lady Bug special?
We go above and beyond at whatever we do. We try to make people as comfortable as possible. If you purchase something, whoever rang you out walks you to your car with whatever you’ve bought, whether it’s a single bag or a wagon of gifts and plants. We want to get to know you. We want you to come back. The picnic tables are out there for people who just want to sit outside and enjoy lunch. You don’t have to buy anything, just come and enjoy nature … Making money is a bonus. Making people happy here is my goal. I want to create a setting for families to come build memories.
What do people struggle with when trying to make their yards look great?
They don’t know much about plants … You have to know what side the sun comes up and sets on your home. You have to know what kind of soil you have. If you work a lot and your spouse works a lot, do you want low maintenance? Do you want things that are good for the butterflies and the bees? Do you need deer resistant plants? … I’ll sell you (plants) happily, but I’m going to tell you whether it’s going to be a good idea or not. I don’t want to sell you something that’s not going to work and you’re not going to be happy with … We really take pride in it. If it’s not something we can figure out from a photo or a description, we’ll come out for free and tell you what you need.
Do you have any advice for readers?
Enjoy the outdoors. So many of us sit inside at our desks. We drive to work and we drive home and we don’t realize the beauty that is around us … That’s why we have our summer concert series. You’re out in the air and you’re under the stars. People, I think have really lost touch with the beauty of nature and things like that. I think we should, as adults, we should really get our children back into that.
3 Tips for perfecting your own landscaping:
- Use organics whenever possible. Organic fertilizer is basically foolproof, and you’ll start to see more wildlife.
- Buy local plants already used to the area’s climate.
- Take advantage of workshops and seminars.
- If you’re not the outdoorsy type, don’t be afraid to call in the experts.