Hi, my boys are 3 and 4. I'd say do it this way:
1. Clear up
2. Sort boundaries (paint, clip hedges, whatever).
3. Hard landscaping. I'd go for a simple, preferably completely level, patio. Like you say, minimises mud dragging in. Mine use ours for scootering, and I have a builder's tray I put out now and again with play sand in for them.
4. Lawn. Prepare and turf the remainder.
5. Any other permanent features - trellis dividers, walls, whatever. I'd keep level changes to a minimum for safety reasons - its no good having a garden that mens mum's constantly running around behind the kids in case they trip - she should be sitting out there with a brew, supervising from her comfy chair!
6. Only after all that can you really start thinking about planting. You need time to assess how sunny or shady or windy or whatever certain areas are before you can choose appropriate plants. There's no rush - why not wait and see where your wife tends to sit - then site some beds where it'll give her either privacy, a good spot to watch the kids, and maybe a nice view. Maybe site another based on the view from the back windows. Maybe one to hide something you don't want to look at. Think about having a focal point for each of these 'key' spots. Maybe a small tree, or a large architectural shrub, or some other kind of feature. When you've got these bits planned to do their jobs, then think about linking them together. Do they work best as 'islands' .or should you connect them? Then think about planting. Start with the biggest plants and then fill the spaces between. Plant things either of decent size, or in decent clumps - nothing makes a small space seem smaller than a 'dolly mixture' border. Don't buy herbaceous plants in ones - for a garden your size, plant in 'triangles' made from 3 plants at a time. Also try to repeat a few of these triangles in different areas - it keeps it looking unified. Hardy geraniums are good for this - they'll grow almost anywhere so are likely to thrive regardless of aspect.
Anyway, that's how I'd go about it. If you didn't plant a thing until spring, you'll still have a useable, much improved space in the meantime, and you'll have had chance to research the planting. If you're really keen to get the planating fabulous, invest in the rhs planting combinations book. You start with one plant you wanna use, look it up, and it gives suggestions for things that look nice/grow well with it. Then look that one up... and so on. Definitely helps the novice a lot, and cheaper than buying the wrong things and ending up replacing.
Good luck, Bx
I am still renovating a garden with a limited budget. That wood wall holding back the raised part. We had a similar problem. Do i see in the picture that the wood is slatted into concrtet poats. if so - this is money i know - but you can gat concrete gravel boards that are about 30cm high search andyou would find some with a brick pattern - much easier on the eye. If these are not high oenough you could gat a plain shorter gravel board and slot in first then add decorative one on top.
I woul also buy paint and make the boundaries look better.
If you started with these 2 things plus tidying you would be surprised how your work plan will slot into place. Oh and I would improve that step up for safety.
Then plan a little each season.
You may get gravel boards off e-cycle. I bought very cheap short picket fence which i painted a pretty green and put on top of gravel boards. I also grow cosmos along the picket fence - perhaps a good safety feature with 2 little girls. Having trouble downloading photo to show you.
just joined today as didn.t know what to do when I first joined so I will also say exactly what everyone else has said a good clean -up first and you will be amazed what a difference as I am in the same position as you not much money spare ...however I would certainly have some flowers ones that grow every year such as marigold there are beautiful and add lots of colour a pkt of seed spinkled onto the soil id all you need ,then when they grow collect the seeds for the following year hey presto just the beginning... the children would love them too do some reseach on flowers that grow every year then you can add more anuals later
another thing that is a must is a veg garden which not only looks good but tastes good plus you wouldnt need to go to the shop which would save money and alovely trip down the garden is a must Look at books from the libary then sketch things down on paper including what plants you would like and befre you know it you will have a beautiful garden and dont forget the nasturuins you can get the children to plant them with you enjoy and have fun
I remember posting in 2012, nice to see you are getting there, with a family it can be hard to make ends meet but you didn't give up.
Give yourself a good pat on the back,
Hi andyhux - what a difference you've made - sincere congratulations!
Looking forward to more pictures of the next stage