Making a Topiary Elephant – A Living Outdoor Sculpture

This is a reader-supported site. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for your support! :)

African Animals Pattern Set.
Save $10
when you buy this three-pattern set. Use the patterns to create memorable gifts, or to bring a little bit of Africa to your own home


Topiary Elephant Over the last year or so, I’ve had the privilege of watching this amazing topiary elephant come to life, as the creators, Ernesto and Marlis Looser, sent me regular email updates from Switzerland. Now that their elephant is all done and waiting for the plants to fill in, they agreed to write up this guest post so we could see the entire process, from start to finish. What an inspiring project!


How We Made Our Topiary Elephant

©2015 Ernesto and Marlis Looser

First of all we would like to thank you Jonni sooo much for your grand inspiration, and generous instructions on the baby elephant.
We are very pleased to send you, as you requested, pictures of our elephant and short description for people who could be interested in creating such a “monster!”

We got the idea out of the book of two famous artists and designers : Terrence Conran & Diarmuid Gavin: OUTDOORS … probably made for a garden show ….. of course they do not tell you about the making.

Topiary Elephants exists in many places in the world—-the Romans were the inventors of topiaries.

Topiary Elephants
Topiary Elephants

You can also make it smaller and plant a shrub inside…then let it grow and trim around the shape of your sculpture
go in internet: Walt Disney topiaries.

What you need is the skill of welding.

How it was done:

1. We drew our elephant on a paper sheets ( ours is 3mx5m).

2. Then made a copy on a transparent plastic sheet.

Setting out the shape of the topiary elephant.
Setting out the shape of the topiary elephant.

3. Follow the lines, cutting, bending & welding.

4. Erect, first low then original height.

stuff goes here
Erecting the Armature
stuff goes here
Taking a Break

5. Add all the membranes 4 feet and trunk.

6. Paint with anti-rust the welding junctions.

Legs and More Rebar Added to the Elephant Armature
Legs and More Rebar Added to the Elephant Armature
The Tusks are Added
The Tusks are Added
Topiary Elephant Armature
Not Afraid of Heights!

The teeth are out of chestnut wood from our forests.

7. Place 4 rings (50 x 30 cm) from chemical barrels into the ground and ram in 3 armoring irons (70cm) in the surface.
– Put in the centre an L iron with long hole, on which you fix later on your sculpture.
– Pour over the concrete.

Topiary Elephant Base
Topiary Elephant Base Support
Topiary Elephant Base Plan
Topiary Elephant Base Plan

8. Cover the whole elephant with a strong grid… the saddle belly with armoring grid.
Fix together with armoring wire.

Adding the Grid to the Topiary Elephant to Hold the Plants
Adding the Grid to Hold the Plants
Adding Gardening Felt Over the Metal Grid
Adding Gardening Felt Over the Metal Grid

9. Lay over big pieces of felt you use for gardening etc.

10. Cover again the whole elephant with chicken wire.

11. Plant at his feet ivy= hedera helix.

12. Saddle and boxes filled with flowers and herbs.

Topiary Elephant Planted, Waiting for Vines to Cover It
Topiary Elephant Planted, Waiting for Ivy to Cover It

13.  Let mother nature let him grow

Best regards and wishes from Switzerland
Ernesto & Marlis Looser

PS. Our First Elephant – Made With Paper Mache:

 We got inspired by the incredible help by artist Jonni’s step by step making a baby elephant.
We badly needed an elephant and by miracle found this site. We are enormously grateful to Jonni who placed at the disposal all her skill of an authentic and likable artist.
Here’s “Dixafant,” our elephant  for Dixa Herbs and Spices, carrying spice from  the far East.
Our Paper Mache Elephant in the Spice Shop
Our Paper Mache Elephant in the Spice Shop


5 thoughts on “Making a Topiary Elephant – A Living Outdoor Sculpture”

  1. That is so cool and close to life size. The biggest sculpture that I ever made out of steel was a 20′ high by 40′ long stegosaurus skeleton. I made it in 2000 for the steel factory that I worked at in Racine, Wisconsin. Seeing this elephant makes me want to make something big again. I know that it had to be a lot of work and I am glad that you got the job well done.

  2. Dear Jonni,
    I would like to do the topiary elephants posted above.
    Do you have the drawing for the welding? Is this also in your book?
    Or can you give me a hint where I can get such a drawing?
    Thanks in advance for your advice!

    • Hi Anna. I didn’t make this topiary elephant. It was made by Ernesto and Marlis Loose, who wrote this guest post back in 2015. I don’t know if they’re still watching for comments or not. There is a pattern for a small sitting elephant in my book, but you could also make the outline using a photo, like I do in this video. After the outline is done, you’d need to add the rounded shapes, and I have no idea how to do that. We do have a regular visitor to the blog who creates metal sculptuers. If you leave a comment on one of Alan’s posts he might have some suggestions for you.

  3. I love Jonni’s work and helps. I have always loved paper mâché, but sort of felt like it was cheating. You have shown that it is its own, wonderful thing! We are in the process of moving out of state, but I hope to be working, playing, again soon. Large topiaries are high on my list. Thank you again, Kay – sometimes Pinky

  4. Wow! That must have been some work! Very nice job. Would love to see a photo of this a few years after growth has had time to spread and fill in. Thank you for sharing.


Leave a Comment