The past few years I haven't cut my plants back in the fall. Since I live in such extreme temperatures, they say leaving the plant there all winter helps protect the roots from getting too cold - I guess if you cut the stems it almost makes it like a straw - drawing cold air down to the root. But I guess that helps me know where my perennials are once the snow melts. I cut back the dead foliage in the spring. In my two new beds, I tried something new (new to me anyway).
I dug down- put in some good soil and compost. Then, I put about a 1/2 inch layer of newspaper across the whole bed. I covered that with a black weed barrier cloth and then layered some composty looking dark mulch - really just looks like dirt. Where ever I wanted to put a plant, I cut through the cloth and newspaper and then put the plant! I had a weed free garden all last summer. We'll see if the plants come back this year. So far just the peonies have poked up - still early for my area though.
queenb, I can't remember what color my peonies are - They didn't bloom last year - I let you know if any of them are red. For some reason I think they are pink and white.