How large an area are we talking about here and how large a budget do you have? If it is a large area & you have some cash I'd be tempted to get a landscaper in with machinery!
You could consider some low maintenance shrubs and / or the gravel / patio idea if the area is suitable (gravel doesn't get as slippery in the winter if that's a consideration). Using weed suppressant membrane and thick mulches should go a long way to controlling weeds leaving you with a little light pruning once or twice a year. Using mainly evergreens would mean you dont have to deal with loads of leaves in the autumn.
Honestly, a good landscaper is worth his weight in gold, won't necessarily cost the earth & will probably have some good ideas of his own. Cultivating a large area of ground is hard work how ever many miles you have on the clock. If you want to be more active in this just get him to do the hard landscaping & soil prep & do the planting yourself.
Enjoy the end result!