Peony Festiva Maxima, Centuries ago, some unknown explorer with an obvious eye for beauty and a passion for flowers traveled to China and returned with the bare root tuber of a peony. Weary from his long and perilous journey, the explorer planted the tuber in his cottage garden, and when the peonies bloomed, he was the envy of all his neighbors. This exquisite flower that has been cultivated in China for more than 2000 years has now found its way around the world and is at home in the gardens of North America.
Peony Festiva Maxima require cold winters, many Southern gardeners are wary of planting peonies, but do not let that discourage you. There are many varieties of peonies that flourish in the South, and if planted properly and in the right location, will last for centuries.
In the Upper South where the winters are predictably cold, the varieties of peonies from which to choose are numerous. The farther south you go, the more limited the choices. But regardless of your proximity to the Mason-Dixon Line, if planting peonies for the first time, I would begin with the tried-and-true. Three fail-proof varieties of peonies that have been around for awhile are 'Festiva Maxima', introduced in 1851, and 'Sarah Bernhardt', introduced in 1906, and 'Monsieur Jules Elie'. These three old-fashioned peonies will bloom throughout the South.
In the warmer parts of Zone 7 and all of Zone 8, early blooming and mid-blooming varieties of peonies are recommended. Some newer varieties of peonies that do well in warmer areas are: 'Miss America', 'Do Tell', 'Coral Charm', 'Big Ben' and 'Kansas'.