When we moved in, the backyard was made up of a field of weeds and dying grass, a make-shift pond, and a few other things that had to go (see the 2nd pic. This is the "before" picture. It looks like it could be a nice lawn, but believe me, it was mostly weeds- it had been raining and they were nice and healthy). I have to say, though, the previous owner did do a nice job on the shed. I removed the pond, grass and weeds, etc. and started with a blank canvas.
For one half of the yard, I hauled in a couple cubic yards of cheap gravel and I re-used the previous home owner's retaining wall block to make raised garden beds. I was also able to re-use flagstone and a few other things that were already on the property. I shopped around and found paver blocks on closeout for half off their original price. I bought approximately 900 of them and used them to make pathways and a small patio area under the shade structure. I saved money by locking in the pathway pavers with large (8") nails. Also, since I already had a very compacted area, I didn't excavate for the patio. I just laid a little paver sand down and framed the area with landscaping lumber.
Plants can get pretty expensive. So, I though it would take at least a couple years to fill up the flower beds near the paths and other areas. Well, except for what's growing in the raised beds, I was able to purchase all the plants right after I finished the landscaping. I found that a local home improvement store chain had a clearance section for plants and gave deep discounts on plants that either needed to go to make room or might be in need of a little TLC (you know, those plants with one root in the grave and one on a banana peel!). Anyway, what normally would have been around $600-700 worth of plants, I was able to get for right around $150. Not bad! Everything is on a drip system, too.
On the other side of the pathway, opposite the raised beds, my wife made a little fire pit which I bordered with more flagstone that was on the property. I also grew a grass lawn from seed (more savings since it's much cheaper than sod). I even found great looking rubber mulch made from recycled tires to cover the flower bed areas. These were normally $12 a bag on sale for $3.
As far as the raised beds go, I've had great success with various tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, asparagus, etc. I also planted a semi-dwarf peach tree, dwarf Washington orange tree, and a dwarf Meyer lemon tree which are all looking healthy and have produced a little fruit.
All in all, I think it came out great. I'm proud of the way it looks and I'm especially proud of the fact that it was all done for well less than $1000. Hey, I even got that patio bistro set for six dollars at a garage sale. Removed the rust and added a little paint and now I have a great place to relax in the evening with a nice beer (or two).