I was having tattoos done before it was even trendy you know. My first tattoo was chosen from one of those giant albums you find in old skool tattoo parlours. I was 18, and fixated on getting a tattoo with my first pay packet from my first job. I still don’t know how uber shy, 18 year old, gangly me had the confidence to go into Bob’s/Dick’s/Fat Larry’s in Colchester and get a scorpion etched onto my upper right arm.
I never told my parents. Even though the scar was stinging all that weekend. But, I kept the swab on, just peeling it back every now and then in the downstairs loo to admire my artwork.
Why had I had that urge?? I really don’t know to be honest. I wasn’t even an adventurous 18 year old, alcohol barely touched my lips and cigarettes made me choke.. But, suddenly I was edgy. To prove it, every so often I would wear super gay tops without arms. I wasn’t even out at that point.
Developing a taste for tattoos
I soon wanted one on the other arm, and did that 90’s thing of choosing tribal from those goddamn albums in the tattoo parlour, although this time I went to one in Ipswich. I chose a suitably hideous design and had the outline done. After that, I didn’t go back to have it filled in for another year, can’t remember why… But, each time I went ‘out on the town’ with my work friends, one girl would colour in the gaps with black mascara. I have no idea either…!
Not content with one tribal, I then had some more done on my back. I can’t even be sure it was inked in level though, can I?? It remains to this day.
After that, I started having two at once, don’t ask me why. One session adorned me with an (awful) gecko on my torso, and something else that I don’t remember/is now covered over. Then, a greek cross on my wrist and some dutch on my shoulder… Another black tattoo, this time of the Albanian double eagle, was then completed in Amsterdam. But, then things changed.
The botanical beginnings
I visited a tattoo parlour in Ipswich, and it was the usual style of place, more like a hangout place than an actual business. I went in asking for a lily (I think?!) and was assigned to a sweet guy called Will. He wasn’t the usual type of tattooist.
In fact, he was a bit of a pretty boy, and didn’t spout rubbish like a lot of super macho tattooists do! He did a good job of the lily, and I went back another few times for some other flowers. I was starting to go botanical, and it wasn’t long until I was covering up the regrettable tribal and ill-advised black tats.
Continuing the spontaneity
People often ask how I planned my sleeve. The answer is, I never have. I would often be frantically googling images of flowers as I travelled to see Will.
After a while, he left to set up on his own, and that’s when we really formed a bond and were working together more often. Sometimes I’d be ‘in the chair’ for full days of etching. Will covered over my old tribal with bamboo and roses, following the curves of the original tattoo. I can see it underneath, but only because I know it’s there.
Halfway through working on my black sleeve, I decided to have an orange asiatic lily on my right forearm. I love spontaneity! That arm then developed over a few years, and Will tattooed in a ‘watercolour style’, with the ink watered down, so the final effect is like a painting. I particularly love my Auricula group and the Etlingera from that arm. A Lily ‘Landini’ recently overlaid the Scorpion from 20 years ago…
That coloured arm isn’t finished by any means, either. We haven’t filled all the space yet, let alone considered the shading style. The black/grey scale arm is similarly needing some finesse. As we worked on it at different times, you can see this in the density of the ink, so it just needs tracing over once. That arm has no space left for new blooms.
A few other botanical happenings occurred in recent years too; a watercolour Gladioli on my left thigh, a Hibiscus on my torso (over that old gecko!), and a freehand group of palm trees on my right calf (spontaneously inked on in a Williamsburg tattoo parlour, a sketch copied from an Instagram post..)
People always ask when I’ll stop….? I’m not sure. I don’t know why I have tattoos, but I know I like them. I don’t stress about them being meaningful or anything, I just want what I want..! And I’m not stopping yet.
When you’ve had tattoos for as many years as I have, you tend to forget you have them. Until you’re in Asia, that is. Tattoos are far less common in those regions, and they evoke stares, inquisitive looks, sometimes people even recoil, as if I were a gangster. I mean, as if…!
It is great having something that people remember me for though, and I like how they look. Well, I couldn’t imagine my arms any differently now, anyway!
And, my Mum has now noticed by the way, in case you were wondering…!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook – and writes a plant-focused Substack called Grow This, Not That.