I am always interested in the names that hybridisers choose for their iris cultivar seedlings. Many of these names can tell you a lot about the hybridiser - his or her likes and dislikes - or their sense of humour and interests.
For example, in 2012 Bernard (my husband and fellow hybridizer) and I were asked by The Royal Horticultural Society of New South Wales Inc. to name one of our Louisiana iris seedlings for the 150th anniversary of the Society. The RHS of NSW was the first horticultural Society in the new colony of New South Wales and was founded in 1862 - some 40 years before the federation of the Australian colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia on 1901. The Society's members over the decades have read like a 'who's who' of early pioneers in horticulture in Australia. The Governors of New South Wales (the representative of His or Her Majesty over the years) have been the Patron of the Society since 1862. This was pretty heady stuff for a couple of Louisiana iris hybridisers from Sydney, I can tell you, but we rose to the challenge and provided a delightful seedling for the task. A celebratory rose was also chosen for this special event. The colours of the Society are 'ruby and gold', so the name 'Bennelong Gold' was chosen for the golden-coloured rose and the name 'Bennelong Ruby' was chosen for the two-toned ruby Louisiana iris pressed into service for this special event.
But why was the prefix 'Bennelong'used? 'Bennelong' was one of the first indigenous Australians to make meaningful contact with the first Governor, Governor Arthur Phillip, when the first European-based settlement was established in Sydney Cove in 1788. Governor Phillip was a bit of a linguist, having mastered many European-based languages before taking on the task of governing and co-ordinating the new settlement in what was then known as 'Terra Australis' or 'the great southern land'. Despite his linguistic talent, Phillip could not make much progress with the local Aboriginal dialect, but the young indigenous aboriginal, 'Bennelong,' was a natural at languages and he soon learned rudimentary English. He acted as a translator (both culturally and linguistically). His efforts were rewarded with a Governor providing 'Bennelong' with a small hut of wattle and daub construction on a small headland in Sydney Harbour, where he lived out his life in relative luxury. This headland is now known as Bennelong Point - and is the current site for the famous Sydney Opera House.
The word 'Bennelong' therefore had great historical and cultural importance for Sydney, New South Wales and ultimately, the Commonwealth of Australia. Most tourists to Sydney either visit the Opera House or at least take a stroll around Bennelong Point during their visit. The combination of the name 'Bennelong' with the colours of The RHS of NSW Inc. (ruby and gold) seemed like a perfect fit for us.
'Bennelong Ruby' is a new release for Iris Haven this year, having been first made available via The Royal Horticultural Society of NSW Inc. in 2012. Rhizomes of 'Bennelong Ruby' are growing in the gardens of Government House, which itself sits just above Bennelong Point in Sydney. So, what's in a name? A powerful lot of interesting history, if nothing else!