By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jun 23, 2004 at 5:44 AM Photography: Neil Kiekhofer of Front Room Photography

{image1} Holland is 4,000 miles from Milwaukee, yet Michael Gaffney sells flowers from inside a windmill on Howard Avenue. Officially called Tulipomania European Flower Market, the business' address is 319 E. Howard Ave.

The windmill was first built in the 1930s by a Dutchman who missed his Motherland, and five years ago, Gaffney -- who is possibly Milwaukee's most celebrated flower arranger -- was tooling around the South Side and noticed the unique building.

"It was like an oasis," says the 45-year-old Gaffney, who wanted to open his own place for a long time and from the moment he saw the windmill building knew that it was the ideal location.

The building, once a real estate agency and a candy shop, is a lot bigger than it appears from the street, complete with a three-bedroom apartment in the back.

"It should be known as 'The Dutch Mansion on Howard,'" says Gaffney.

Gaffney picked the name "Tulipomania" after the 17th century historical period of the same name when Dutchmen traded flower bulbs for exorbitant amounts of money.


"It was their first commodities trading and it basically ruined the Dutch economy," says Gaffney, who managed Baumgartner Krueger for many years and worked at numerous other local flower shops.

And yes, the windmill works. In fact, the entire dome can be rotated with just two fingers and consequently spins in very light breezes.

Inside the windmill, Gaffney sells just about every available flower on the market, and specializes in European flowers.

"People in the business know that the best product comes from Holland," he says.

Gaffney will open Milwaukee's first floral design school, called The Milwaukee School of Flower Design, this summer. The program is an eight-week intensive.

"I talk and teach very fast," says Gaffney. "We'll cover everything: tabletop, wedding, Japanese, special event, European."

European arranging differs greatly from American arranging. To conserve big flowers, Americans mix them with smaller, less expensive greens, whereas Europeans prefer "head to head" bouquets made from lots of large flowers.


Gaffney taught at Shorewood's The Garden Room, and based on the popularity of the classes, decided to open the school. He says his classes appeal to young people "who don't want to go to beauty or bartending school," hotel managers/owners and hobbyists.

Classes are two nights a week with weekend labs and will be taught inside a Schlitz Park building. The cost is $1,750 but single classes can be purchased for $125. Gaffney promises that students will take home more in flowers than what they pay for the classes.

"The only way to learn is to do it," says Gaffney. "I teach the theory of design ... Once you earn why one room is pretty and one room is ugly, you can design anything."

If all goes well, Gaffney plans to open similar schools in Chicago and Minneapolis and says his style of teaching is based on what he learned from mentor, Kevin Yvilvasaker.

"He's just the master," says Gaffney. "Years ago, I was a truck driver, and I came back to Milwaukee from New York and met Kevin. He became a huge influence."

Next to flowers, Gaffney has another passion: horses. In his free time, he breeds and trains thoroughbreds for racing.

"It's just like having a baby. You teach them to step with shoes on, wear a saddle ... learn to trust," he says. "If you spend a lot of time with them, they're like big German Shepherds."

Aside from Tulipomania, Gaffney has numerous unique and impressive credentials. When the Boerner Botanical Gardens have an indoor special event, they hire him to create table arrangements, and when 18 couples got married at the 100th Harley Davidson celebration last summer, guess who they called?

"I used white Casablanca lilies," he says. "And lots of black."

For more information, call (414) 489-9463.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.