Festiva Maxima Peony: A Fluffy White Variety With Pink-Edged Petals

The Festiva Maxima Peony is a classic, sought-after variety for the flower garden.

The Festiva Maxima Peony is a brilliant white peony with a double bloom. These herbaceous perennial plants grow to be between two and three feet tall, with ornamental dark green foliage. Festiva Maxima prefers full sunlight and plenty of moisture in the soil. Blooms on well-established plants can be up to seven inches wide at the peak of blooming, and are unique among other peonies for their size and color. The Festiva Maxima Peony is a cultivar of Paeonia lactiflora bred in France in the mid 1800’s by Auguste Joseph Miellez.

Whether you’re a beginner when it comes to gardening or an expert, this flower has something to offer. It’s easy to maintain and it looks incredible, not to mention it is resistant to pests and is unique even among other plants of the same variety. Read on to learn all about Festiva Maxima Peonies!

Festiva Maxima Peony Flower - close up

Festiva Maxima Peony: The Basics

The Festiva Maxima Peony has been gracing gardens for around a hundred and seventy years, with its first emergence being in 1851 as a hybrid cultivar of Paeonia lactiflora created by the French plant breeder Auguste Joseph Miellez. Miellez’s creation would eventually win honors much later from the Royal Horticultural Society for his work with this specific flower (RHS Award of Garden Merit, 1993). Festiva Maxima Peony was first made available in the United States in Boston in 1852, the year after it was first introduced.

The flowers of Festiva Maxima are termed “Doubles”, as they have multiple layers of petals. These big, fluffy, puffball-like flowers are among the largest types of peony blooms (and certainly the heaviest!). Other types of double peonies include Karl Rosenfeld Peony, Sarah Bernhardt Peony, and Kansas Peony.

Here are some nurseries that carry Festiva Maxima Peony plants (typically shipped in spring/fall):

The Festiva Maxima Peony grows to be between two and three feet tall with a similar width. It has green foliage and boasts a magnificent white flower that grows to be between six and seven inches wide. This peony variety is set apart from other white peonies by the hot pink edges at the tip of the serrated petals. These peonies look as if the petals have just barely brushed up against red-pink dye.

festiva maxima peony plant

What Type Of Peony Is The Festiva Maxima Peony Classified As?

Festiva Maxima Peony plants (Paeonia lactifloraFestiva Maxima’) are herbaceous perennial peony plants with Full Double-type peony flowers that bloom early in peony season (typically mid-spring).

Peonies come in six main types of flower forms: Single, Anemone, Japanese, Semi-Double, Bombe, and Full Double. Full Double peonies like Festiva Maxima are known for their voluminous layers of petals. In this flower type, all stamens and carpels are transformed into petals. Double peonies look like a flower inside a flower (hence the term “double”). Sometimes pollen-bearing stamens (often yellow) appear in a circle around the outside of the inner flower layer.

“Double: These are blooms for those who love enormous, extravagant flowers filled with masses of petals in textures of Thai silk or watered taffeta.”

Peonies, by Pamela McGeorge

There are three main types of peony plants: tree, herbaceous, and intersectional. Festiva Maxima peonies are among the herbaceous category of peony plants. These plants sprout anew from their roots each spring, and will typically grow to be about 3 feet tall by the middle of spring. Then, they will bloom and go on to display beautiful foliage throughout summer and even into early fall. They usually die back to their roots after the first hard frost comes.

peony buds in early june before bloom
Flower buds on ‘Festiva Maxima’ peony plants in early June just before blossoming

Growing Festiva Maxima Peony Plants

Like most peonies, the Festiva Maxima requires only minimal maintenance as long as they’ve been planted in the right spot.

Seasons

The best time to plant peonies is during the late fall and early winter. The only time you should be moving them is in early fall. It is critically important that the flowers have at least six weeks to settle before the first winter snow.

The Festiva Maxima only blooms in spring but is resilient throughout the year even into the winter. When the blooms start to die down at the beginning of summer, it’s time to start cutting them back. They should be cut back a little way into the foliage so that the stem doesn’t stick out.

Location

Peonies can grow in the 3-8 climate zones of the United States. their preferred zones are usually 5-7, but Festiva Maximas are a little more resistant to the heat than your average peony, meaning that it tends to thrive in the 8 climate zone a little better than most. This does not mean that it can be grown in hotter climate zones than this—8 is still the maximum.

Within your garden, the Festiva Maxima will want a spot that gets plenty of sunlight and has deep soil with good drainage. Like other peonies, it struggles to compete with trees, bushes, or shrubs, so be sure to plant it away from those.

When planting more than one of them, plant them three to four feet away from each other for the best results.

Festiva Maxima Peony
Festiva Maxima Peony

Soil

Peonies like soil with a neutral PH that drains well and is plenty deep. If you have soil that is capable of growing plants without fertilizer, then there is no reason to use more than a tiny bit for these flowers. If your soil is incapable of sustaining life, then you should add a minimal amount of fertilizer to it once every several years. To add more would harm the peonies.

Planting

Most peonies are sold as bare roots. When planting bare-root peonies, you’ll want to start by digging a hole about a foot wide and a couple of feet deep. It needs to have enough space for the plant to grow roots in. At this point, you’ll want to mix your compost with the dirt.

Next, you’ll build a mound in the hole that peaks no less than two inches from the surface. This is where you will rest the root itself, with its eyes facing towards the opening of the hole.

Now push the soil back into the hole, being careful to make sure that the root doesn’t end up getting pushed further than two inches beneath the surface.

You can now tamp the soil gently and water the area where you planted the peonies generously to ensure that they have what they need to grow.

Care

While Peonies don’t need a lot of attention, it is a good idea to give them some kind of support for their stems. This can be wooden stakes, metal peony circles, or even tomato cages. Peonies don’t mind metal, so don’t worry about that bothering them.

There’s no need to mulch them heavily, even in the winter. If you do decide to mulch them, a light mulching will be fine. Peonies are very cold-hardy!

Along with trimming back dying blossoms, you should also trim the peony plant’s foliage to the ground before each winter to protect it from overwintering.

Fresh white peony blooms in glass jar on wood table - festiva maxima peonies
Freshly picked ‘Festiva Maxima’ white peonies in a mason jar

Pests and Diseases

Fortunately, Peonies aren’t vulnerable to many pests. Not only do they resist deer and rabbits, but they also have a symbiotic relationship with ants that protects them from things like slugs or aphids. They can, however, contract a variety of diseases if you aren’t careful with them.

Peonies are vulnerable to powder mildew, which is rarely lethal but can make life much more difficult for them. The best way to prevent this is to keep them in the sunlight and to treat any signs of mildew right away. Plenty of sunlight will not only help the plant grow healthily but also suppress any fungus growing on it.

Many infections that peonies can suffer from require you to either remove the affected part of the plant to remove the plant altogether. Never leave dead plant foliage, stems, or roots in your garden!

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a gardening expert and founder of Home for the Harvest. She's also an engineer and certified permaculture garden designer. Mary Jane has been featured by publications such as Real Simple, Mother Earth News, Homes & Gardens, Heirloom Gardener, and Family Handyman.