You may know about this site already, Swimp, but it looks useful. I'm not sure of your exact region... so I didn't go that far in looking at it.
Consider herbs in BIG pots. A french lavender, for example, bought big enough, can get pretty big pretty fast. As the season passes, rip it out and put in some winter amusement.. but you'll have already hung lavender to dry...
My business partner, more of a mad gardener than I, or maybe more of a mad spender, always had large pots planted with various bulbs... magazine photo ready when they bloomed. Well, that is with a relatively small yard. What size yard do you have, Swimpy?
I admit to stupidity in dealing with freezes, as it didn't happen in the places I lived for decades. Well, occasionally, but not to knock off the plants.
The areas somewhat away from us that did have freezes had good plant lists in the Sunset Western Gardens book. So, I'm spoiled.
For example, in my Venice garden, I could plant chrysanthemums of various types, and cut them back as the year waned. then the same plant would fluorish the next year. I'm kind of glad I didn't plant out my yard yet here in ABQ, since it's been freezing for weeks now - I might have killed half of it by poor choices. I did plant a buddleia a while ago. Have no idea if it is dormant or dead as a doornail.
In LA, we often went for the cottage garden look - depending on the nature of the property and the nature of the owners. Lots of natives, lots of inground herbs, often roses, salvias up the kazoo... what could be quite the fulgent/rangy look, but often/sometimes arranged fairly formally given that the yard might be quite small and our sense of it was an almost formal layout right near the house. Basically formal disguised by verdant growth. Sometimes with a short slightly hedgy (or trimmable in a linear way) perimeter, say of ilex vomitoria.. or teucrium germander. (I'm just talking, I don't know your zone.)
Not saying you have to like that look - but now's a good time to think about what kind of garden look you do like - or develop it, if you've already thought that out.
Your goal may be low maintenance, which adds another twist.