Oscar loved rhododendrons. Over the course of his eight decades of life, he became a recognized international expert on them. But, then, he loved cultivating and gardening pretty much anything. That makes sense, to a degree, because he came from Sweden, a place where the growing season is excruciatingly short but, when it does finally come, the days are long and sunny.
Luckily, his family had money, so he could concentrate on what was, for him, more than simply a hobby. He designed and built extensive gardens for not only his family in Sweden but also for other families in other parts of Europe. For someone who was born in the late 1800s, Oscar developed a rather advanced and modern take on gardening, coming to advocate for sustainable agriculture and forward-thinking methods of composting and pollination. Again, because of his family’s money, Oscar was able to travel and learn about gardening from some of the leading experts of his day. One of those experts was an unexpected and rather unusual mentor for Oscar. He was an American, born in Missouri, who researched and taught at a small college in the American south and had made somewhat of a name for himself in the realm of horticulture. Oscar managed to spend almost a month shadowing this researcher and learning his methods. He absorbed the information like a sponge and brought back new techniques to his gardens in Sweden.
As with us all to some degree or another, not everything in Oscar’s life was roses, so to speak. His first wife, also from a wealthy family, died from an infection after a simple surgery. Her unborn child died with her. The couple had other children before that, however, and these motherless kids comforted him in his grief. At a party a few years later, Oscar met another woman, this time from England, and the pair got married. He considered himself extremely fortunate to have met and married two wonderful women. Yet, his grief was not over. His oldest son and namesake died in an airplane crash shortly after World War 2. And his second wife miscarried a daughter. So, Oscar found solace from his grief in his gardening.
For most of his life, Oscar was able to pursue his passion. However, in 1950, at the age of 68, familial obligations changed how he could spend his time. You see, his father, a man named Gustaf, passed away. And that meant that Oscar…Fredrik Wilhelm Olaf Gustav Adolf became King Gustav Adolf VI of Sweden.
Oh, and that mentor who taught at the small college in the United States? Well, much has been made of the vast differences between Oscar and that researcher, but there is no denying that he and George Washington Carver were united by their love of gardening.