The metal birds in the back garden were looking rather the worse for wear after the winter, with patches of green algae and bubbles of rust. There used to be a fashion for them some years back, but I'm not sure you see them about so much nowadays, which is a shame for the craftspeople in Africa who used to sculpt them out of scrap. Some were much better than others. I got mine from a firm of importers who exhibited at the Hampton Court Flower Show and had tracked down a particularly good source, so that their sculptures had a vitality lacked by some of their competitors. One of ours is a heron and the other a secretary bird, each standing something over three feet tall, one in the bog bed gazing diagonally up the garden, and the other on the further deck by the Hamamelis pots, staring down towards the far corner. They used to look at each other, but the shrubs have grown up between them in the intervening years. I don't know exactly how long we've had them, but it's a long time since I've been to Hampton Court.
Every so often I give them a spray of metal paint, the sort you can apply directly to raw metal or rust. According to the instructions on the can I was supposed to rub the metal down with a wire brush and emery paper before degreasing it, but I think if I'd done that the brush would have gone right through the bodywork in places, and with all their feathers and streamers there were too many crevices where you couldn't get a brush. I just washed them with a squirt of detergent, using an old face flannel I'd kept for that sort of project, and left them to dry in the sun, the bird off the deck propped against a bush as I didn't want to spray on the deck, then in the middle of the lawn with its feet weighed down with the pick axe while the paint dried.
The feet of the bird in the border are pinned to a buried lump of concrete, which was one reason why I needed to get on with the job now, before the surrounding plants grew too tall. The heron stands in the middle of a patch of Thalictrum and purple leaved Persicaria, from which it peeps coyly in high summer. I didn't want to spray the emerging foliage as well as the metalwork, and found an old duvet cover and a couple of pillowcases in the garage, which I draped over the clumps of leaves. Judging by the specks of teal paint on them I previously used them when I was painting the hall.
One can of Hammerite doesn't go very far. There was enough for two coats on each bird, and a single coat on the seat of the two-seater metal bench under the Great White Cherry, which had started to go rusty. Hunting hopefully in the garage I found an old can of paint which was enough to do a second coat on the seat, but I thought two coats would do for the birds. My efforts are merely slowing down the inevitable decay, as they inexorably rust away like the bodywork of a 1970s Fiat. It is a very wasteful way of applying paint, spraying an irregular shape like that in the open air, but much, much quicker than it would have been buying liquid paint and going over every bird twice with a half inch brush.