The Flower Guru: Michael Gaffney’s Milwaukee School of Flower Design

Ever wonder who’s behind those gorgeous, larger-than-life floral arrangements that we all drool over? Chances are it is Michael Gaffney or one of his students. Michael runs the Milwaukee School of Flower Design and six other schools across the country (including one in New York City), with another one set to open next year.

Q: How did you get into the flower business?
A: After I left my job on Wall Street, I took a job driving a flower delivery truck. My colleagues would talk with me about arranging flowers and every day I would tune it out. I thought, oh, I just deliver them, I don’t arrange them. Then I would deliver flowers to patients at hospitals and it opened my eyes. The patients are often in the worst conditions ever, and the only thing in the world that would make them forget that is flowers. Flowers truly have this magical power.

Q: And now you share your expertise with your students across the country. Tell us a little bit about your schools.
A: My students are a lot like me. Most have been working for years and are just not happy with what they do. They tell me they want to get out of the cubicle and grow up to be “a designer.” Our regular courses last four weeks at a time for a total of 10 classes. I teach all of the fundamentals of design from the start, using photos from magazines as inspiration. They are always so overwhelmed at how quickly they pick up what I’ve taught them.

Q: That must be such a great experience!
imageA: Oh, it is. We all love the beautiful arrangements we see in magazines and the media and while yes, there is absolutely creativity involved, arranging flowers is also a lot like teaching someone how to play checkers or figuring out a puzzle.

Q: Valentines’ Day is coming up. Is that a busy time for you?
A: It is a huge time for us! My best advice to any guy seeking to buy his Valentine flowers is to give her flowers on a random Tuesday instead! There never really has to be a special occasion to give someone flowers. Of course roses are always the most requested, but we also like to help people think outside of the box such as with a tropical flower, like an orchid, which tend to last longer.

Q: Any suggestions on how to make those roses last longer?
A: My best tip is to soak the entire flower, upside down in water for 30 minutes. By hydrating the whole flower, it will last twice as long. If you do see one or two blooms die off, discard them and rearrange the remaining ones in your bouquet into a smaller arrangement. Just be sure to snip off three or four inches from the stems to help them drink up the water.

Photos by Danny Cenzoll

lauren debellis

A former magazine editor, Lauren DeBellis has been writing and producing stories about home decorating and design for nearly ten years. She resides in East Northport with her husband.