I live in the Pacific Northwest (Portland), and I have a small urban back yard (20'x30'). In the decade I have owned the house, I have never really done much with it, and it has ranged from boring but reasonably maintained grass lawn to complete weedlot, and everything in between. Its current state is weedlot.
I would like to transform it into a beautiful garden...but one that's as low maintenance as possible (I am returning to grad school while working full-time: time is the scarcest resource).
Earlier this year, I planted two trees I like (a Stewartia and a Ash Cimmaron), but I am at a loss as to what to do with the rest of the yard, and I don't know where to start. I am not in love with grass, and I like the idea of lusher, wilder-looking gardens. I also love moss gardens, and there are parts of the yard that are mostly in shade all day long.
Various people have offered to help and, as well-intentioned as they have been, no one has really been able to see anything through, and I've realized that this is on me to do right. So, here are my questions:
What book(s) should I read? Katie Elzer-Peters' intro book on gardening seems like a safe bet for fundamentals, but the TOC doesn't indicate there's much there about planning a garden, or starting from scratch. Any recommendations would be welcome.
Given that I want to essentially start from scratch, what is the most effective way to start from ground zero? I understand that an effective way to kill everything and start from scratch is to cover the entire lawn with something that blocks the sun for an extended period of time. Is there a book or article that describes this technique, and is that my best bet?
Is there a book, article, or website that covers budgeting for this kind of project? While time is more critical than money, grad school isn't cheap, so I do have to budget: money is not not unlimited. It would also be helpful to know in advance when I can expect large expenses so I can plan my budget accordingly.
I am not adverse to seeking professional help, but I don't even know the right questions to ask, or whether I should be looking for a landscaper or gardener. And, as I mentioned, money is not unlimited, so if I were to hire someone to do all or part of this project, I would have to be mindful of that expense. Should I consider a professional and, if so, what should I look for and what questions should I ask?
It is currently mid-summer, and it would be nice if this project were well underway within a year. What should I be doing now to start seeing results next year?