This evolved from a question in the "gardening for beginners" forum, but I think this place is better suited for it.
To recap: in 2007 I bought a house on a leased plot close to Munich in Bavaria together with my wife. A major factor for the decision to buy it was that the annual lease is very low and the plot is very large, over 1500 square metres. In this region, you'd have to pay at least a million euros for such a plot.
Over the years it has become more and more clear that the garden is much too large for gardening in the traditional way. I have to do most of the work because my wife's schedule doesn't leave much time, on the other hand I am working from home, so I am more flexible. The garden was altready quite necglected when we bought it, and it hasn't got much better. There are a couple of "wilderness" areas slowly but surely eating away the useable space. The vegetable section was completely overgrown with brambles and all kinds of other weeds. I managed to clear about a third of it to grow some vegetables, but I had to do it over and over again. I consider myself a gardening underachiever because I never really had the enthusiasm to take on the herculean task of taming nature on this scale.
In hindsight I could have done a lot better because I never questioned the "dig, dig, and dig again" approach. So with every year I had less enthusiam for gardening. But I still didn't want to give up completely, so I began looking around for alternative ways of gardening. It was almost an epiphany when I recently learned about no dig gardening and subsequently got to know the philosophy of permaculture. This has sparked my enthusiasm again because I see a real perspective to overcome the constant blood, sweat and tears (and the avoidance thereof) of the past.
I would like to ask you for advice how to tackle this. Here is the plot on Google Earth. The picture is a few years old but it's early spring here, so everything is visible.
It's a narrow plot stretching from East to West, about 70 x 25 metres. It's completely flat. The soil is fertile but riddled with pebbles because this used to be the end zone of an ice age glacier. There is no sand, clay or silt. The good thing about this is that there are now drainage issues. The bad thing is that the soil is still not a lot of fun to work with. Main wind direction is from West to East (left to right on the picture), average annual rainfall is 900+ mm but there can be longer dry spells in the summer.
The blue area is a fenced-in outdoor area for our cats. We decided to build the fence because we lost a cat to car traffic a few years ago. This is mainly lawn with a nice old apple tree, a yew tree and a few shrubs. This area has the lowest priority and I don't think there is a lot of permaculture that can or should be done here. It's really just about giving the cats a bit of nature to enjoy. They also use a small part of the lawn as a toilet. Any eventual terraforming should have the needs of the cats as a priority. Of course this is clashing with classic permaculture, as this would be Zone 1 in a standard setting. But there's not much you can do about this here.
This is the pathway towards the back garden. The yew tree is on the left. The cats love to hide under it.
The orange areas are "mini orchards", fruit trees surrounded by a very mossy "lawn".
The tree stump in the first picture is from a cherry tree I chopped down on February.
On the right of the picture is the remnant of a huge juniper tree we chopped down shortly after moving in because it overshadowed everything. Sad in a way, but there was very little sunlight in the evenings.
The green area is the vegetable section. The central part of it is sunny, the eastern part is overshadowed by a huge hazelnut and a buxus tree.
There is also a combination of a large oak and two smaller maple trees on the neighbor's plot right next to the border. It's to the North, but part of the branches are above our ground. The house was inhabited by an old lady who died last year. It's been empty since. There might be a redevelopment in the not so distant future. The stems of the maple trees are actually bending into our plot. I am tempted to chop them down. They have not been deliberately planted but grown from random seeds.
On the eastern end there are branches of a magnificent walnut tree growing over from the neighbour's plot. I hesitate to cut it because I have already made some winderful nocino liqueur from the gren nuts I picked from this.
The brown square is the compost heap wich is massive. It looks steep on the picture but it's actually a rather gentle slope. You can see that hedgehogs have foraged for the gold beetle grubs that are sleeping in there.... There hasn't been any compost management so far. It's esentially just years worth of grass clippings and shredded branches. It will be my first task to reorganise this, collect the mature compost and start a new heap with this year's waste.
There is an ash growing right next tothe garden shed. This needs to go before it can damage the structure. Ashes grow like weeds here. It's almost impossible to eradicate them all.
The pink area is essentially an extension of the vegetable section but it is separated from it by an apple tree. It's covered with raspberries that don't bear fruit anymore and baby ashes. This needs to go soon. sorry, no picture of this.
The purple areas are wilderness. Trees and shrubs trying to choke the rest of the garden, floor cover is mainly ivy that also creeps into the "lawn". There is a plum tree crashed from a storm that I didn't have the time to remove yet.
At the western end of the plot there are massive thuja trees that we decided need to be cut down. Any plants right next to plot limit are not allowed to be higher than 2 metres, and my wife is a bit anxious about possible consequences. But they really are very dominating and make the area very shadowy. So it might actually be better to replace them with something smaller.
It will be a lot of work, but I am sure it will be worth it in the end. I have joked to my wife that I will give myself 10 years to accomplish this. I am 52 now. So with a bit of luck I still might have 20 years left to enjoy the revamped garden.
I haven't mentioned the front garden yet. I don't have pictures here, but I have already been tackling the wilderness here by cutting down a few smaller yew trees and two giant hazelnuts The hazelnuts are not dead yet. They keep growing new branches. I have labeled two small areas with H1 and H2. I think this might be a good place for Hügelkultur over the stumps. I have a lot of wood lying around, and there will be more, so to me this looks like a good idea to try out this concept. Especially the east-west mound wouldn't get much sun, so the choice of plants will be tricky. Maybe you can help here too. But remember this is Europe, so I might not be able to source "exotic" American flora here. ;)
For the vegetable garden I am considering Charles Dowding style no dig beds. The question is just if I sould treat my soil to a lucerne green manure phase before because of the many years it has been neglected. I have managed to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes and zucchini to some success, but I also had many disappointing crops. Then again I haven't done it properly in the past, so maybe the green manure phase might not be necessary at all if I go 100% compost.
The lawn outside the cat fence is not sacred. There are nice wild primroses in spring which might be a loss if the lawn is sacrificed, but I honestly don't need to have it because I don't want to fight the moss that is taking it over. As I understand it, this would also be against the ethics of permaculture. Maybe some kind of forest garden approach might work here.
Any suggestions would be much appreciated.