Peonies are easily considered a "classic" perennial -- certainly the flowers are big, bold and beautiful. They are long-lived as most herbaceous perennials are concerned, and are generally easy in the garden. With recent advances in commercial propagation, newer varieties, including Tree Peony types, ITOH, and other "inter-sectional" hybrids are becoming more readily available.
My favourite of all is the herbaceous P. 'Flame', a 1939 introduction of American breeder Glasscock. It's simply a beauty with early single, and brilliant deep coral-pink flowers. It does not require staking.
An interesting source of information (and some excellent photography) is Carsten Burkhardt's Web Project Paeonia.
Here's to dirt under your nails.