need advice on massive garden renovation - long

When I bought this place (a tiny motel) the property was essentially all flat lawn except for several large maple trees, what I think may be a ash of some sort, and two tiny burning bushes (euonymus, I believe is the correct name) planted on opposite sides of the flagpole. My late husband built me a collection of raised bed/boxes so I could grow flowers and herbs and generally make the place more attractive. Over time we added many more of these boxes - just 1 x 6 boards cut to size and nailed together, put down over newspaper to suppress grass and weeds, filled with topsoil and bulbs or plants.
Too much enthusiasm, not enough planning or real understanding - what can I say - it was the first time I was able to plant on my own property rather than in containers on a rental - I was excited!
In time I recognized that the ground under these boxes needed to be dug up and de-rocked - I live in the Catskills, and if I were to excavate the entire property and remove all the rocks for a foot down the entire property would drop 8 inches. <sigh> So over the course of two springs I dug up each box, set the bulbs aside in a bucket in the shade, excavated to about 6 to 8 inches under each box, amended what soil was left, added more, re-bedded the bulbs and moved on to the next. Exhausting, but the bulb boxes were much happier.
Then there were the boxes where I planted an unruly jumble of herbs. The mints took over two of these, and weeds got out of control in others. The remaining boxes are a chaotic mix of annuals which often have reseeded at random, perennials whose labels have vanished and more weeds. The original tiny shrubs are now, 9 years later, gigantic and desperately in need of pruning.
Lest you think I was negligent as well as impetuous and under-informed, allow me to explain. The problem is that after the initial planting and that round of refurbishing I found myself with zero time to take care of these raised beds, as my husband's health took a catastrophic nosedive. The past 3 years were spent shuttling him back and forth to doctors and hospital visits, or caring for him at home. He became my second full time job - the other being running the motel solo.
Well, this last September he finally succumbed to his illness, and I spent all Fall and Winter learning to cope with grief, confusion and a whole new lifestyle. When we got an unexpected early heat wave in March I took advantage of it to completely reinvent my veggie garden from all containers to properly built raised beds of landscape ties, of which I had a fair few already and bought a couple dozen more. There is more to be done there, but the weather backtracked to normal spring weather, then it was suddenly planting time so I settled for having about 1/3 of my eventual planned garden this year and I'll add to it as I have time and money.
Once everything was settled there, so all I need to do is water, feed, weed and harvest, I turned my attention to the disastrous mess in the front.
What I need to do is completely redo the whole thing - building new, better raised beds, with sufficient space between them to run the mower, or perhaps I'll lay down garden cloth and a thick layer of the locally available free woodchips and eliminate the mowing problem in that area. But the logistics are mind boggling. I have spring flowering bulbs, summer flowering bulbs, mints, herbs, sedums, phlox, drumstick alliums, gladioli, irises, lilies of various sorts... YIKES!
Should I try to do this all in the fall after most of the stuff has gone dormant, or early spring before they have come back to life? Split the difference by digging and storing the bulbs/corms in the fall and transplanting the others in the spring. I'm boggled and could use some practical advice on the best way to attack this monumental task. I'll be working solo, as my income is too limited to hire help - it will take all I have just to buy the necessary landscape timbers to build the new beds.
This time I am planning out a better layout, so I will be able to better care for the plants, but what can you suggest as a rational course of action (I mean aside from the obvious one - sell the motel and move into an insane asylum)? Technical data for what it may add to the planning; my area is zone 5b, in a sheltered valley, not in a flood zone - though close to it. The property is bounded on the east and south sides by roads, backed up to a wooded lot in back on the north side. The final side has a fringe of extremely tall pines on the west side, overlooking the biggest open area on the property, which sadly is unusable as it contains the septic field and is shaded by the motel in the morning and the pines by mid afternoon. So moving the raised beds is not an option - they must simply be replaced and improved.
OK - suggestions?


Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance but the counterfeit of it.
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PhoenixWench wrote: ...
congratulations on weathering the storm. :)

do you have a local gardening club or a local gardener that you can talk to?
the work you've already done on the veggie gardens is what will pay off the most. that's where i'd be spending 70% of my time and efforts.
the rest is really up to you, if you want your business to be appealing to people passing by then you probably want the front open enough to be regularly mowed and with only few gardens and shrubs. too many unkept gardens are going to keep business away.
for people already staying i think a more open space feels safer and is also more appealing than many overgrown gardens and too tall shrubs. so my conclusion would be to remove the raised beds in front and only replace them with a very small garden you know you can keep up with regularly. use the existing garden soil to level the area and replant with mowable mixed grasses and legumes or leave the mints and mow them, they smell good.
philosophically and aesthetically it's up to you. we lack much of the context of where you are, what your clients are like and so on to really make much headway in this kind of garden design type of decision.
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