If you’re pressed for time or money, concentrate your efforts on the backyard and leave the front until later. It’s in the backyard that you’ll be relaxing, so it deserves to be the priority.
If your garden has been so neglected that you can’t seethe soil for the weeds, the simplest solution is to destroy them with a non-selective systemic herbicide, as long as you avoid spraying any plants that you want to keep. They’re highly effective weed killers and leave a little harmful residue in the soil, so that planting can begin as soon as the weeds have died and been cleared. If you have been “blessed” with really persistent weeds, such as poison ivy or multi-flora roses, wait a month or so and give a second application of herbicide to any re-growth.
With a brand new property, the chances are that the builders have left the yard in dreadful condition, even if they’ve hidden it under a token sprinkling of topsoil. So the first job is to turn the garden over. Dig down one fork’s depth and prepare to be horrified by the amount of rubble, wood, and old cement bags that you have to remove. This initial digging also helps to open up the soil, relieving any compaction caused by the heavy construction equipment.
If the soil is poor, improve it by digging in as much organic matter as your wallet and your patience will allow. It’s hard work, but a wise investment – plants will flourish in well-conditioned soil, where otherwise they would have suffered or even died.
While you’re out there, take a break from time to time, to note the hot spots and any that remain in the shade all day – if your rough plan was right, the sitting areas or patio are in the best spots. It’s also worth checking, whether any part of the garden is particularly windy, so that you can plan for plants to provide shelter.
The final factor to consider before making a more detailed plan is to look at what’s beyond your property boundary. Is there an ugly view that you might want to screen off? Or, if you are lucky, a lovely view that you certainly wouldn’t want to hide when you plant the garden and may even want to draw attention to.