I'd talk to neighbours and have a look at nearby gardens to see what's doing well. There's probably a local Gardening Club, most have helpful members and will be happy to answer questions, but I think it's important to find out why your original plants were a total loss. New plants would have needed regular watering to survive, but even manky ones can grow well with suitable conditions.
What's the ground like? The soil round my 20 year old house was full of bricks, old plastic bags (like mortar sacks, thick plastic) and other detritus the builders couldn't be arsed taking away.
You might want to have a good dig down and see what you've got. It's heavy clay by me so I need to dig in a lot of well-rotted manure, grit and suchlike to improve the soil, before I actually put any more plants in.
The neighbours all have the plants the developers put in, apart from one house that has pots of roses.
They haven't finished building yet and they "like you to keep as it is until we're off site" well, I'd like people to stop parking right in front of my kitchen window all day and having a good snoop so we will both be disappointed. Our plants are RUBBISH, and they put a tree in-between two drains which seems a recipe for disaster in 20 years time so I want to get that out too.
I know we have 30 cm of topsoil, it's built on what was a field originally. I was thinking of getting a soil ph kit because I like rhododendrons.
Do you want hardy plants? For a quick annual (ie one year only) display (put in next spring/summer) try red Salvia: they are low plants, very dramatic red top flowers, bush up well even in heavy soil and bloom all summer (mine ae still going now). They are good to fill spaces while you wait for slower shrubs to get going. How about lavender, forsythia (yellow flowers, impossible to kill), or if you have anything to climb up then try clematis or passionflower/passiflora?