Garden centre legal issues

Multiple woman looking at different flowers in garden centre

The following is an outline of some of the areas which may be relevant to you.

What licences does a garden centre need?

If your business is going to prepare, store and sell food (for example in a cafe) then you will need to register with your local environmental health department. They will inspect your premises and help you to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Act. Contact your local authority early on in your planning so that you register in good time. There is no charge for registering.

Plant Passporting and Marketing Requirements

If you will be growing commercially certain plants and products, under Plant Health legislation you may be required to apply for producer authorisation and to issue plant passports/supplier documents to accompany the sale of your plants. These confirm that the plant/plant products are substantially free of quality affecting organisms. You can download the Plant Health Guide to Plant Passporting and Marketing Requirements from the website.

Pet shop licensing

If you intend to sell any animals, you will need a pet shop licence from your local authority. Your local authority will want to inspect your premises for suitability before granting you a licence. Some local authorities will also want you to have a relevant qualification in animal care. The cost of a licence varies from one area to another - contact your local environmental health department to find out how much it will cost in your area. You may need a special licence if you want to sell certain types of animal, for example rare or protected species. Contact your local trading standards department for more information.

Water abstraction licence

You will need to obtain a water abstraction licence if you abstract substantial quantities of water for irrigation purposes from any watercourse or underground water reserve. Water abstraction licences are issued by:

  • the Environment Agency in England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • the Northern Ireland Environment Agency
  • the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland


If you store and supply agro-chemicals (like pesticides) and other chemical products you must register with your local authority environmental health department. They'll inspect your premises to make sure the chemicals are stored correctly. You'll need to comply with the Code of Practice for Suppliers of Pesticides to Agriculture, Horticulture and Forestry (also called the Yellow Code). The code requires anyone who supplies pesticides over 200 kg to have a Certificate of Competence for Nominated Storekeepers. You can find out more on the BASIS website in the Exams and Training section.

Background music

If you plan to play background music in the garden centre or in any café area you will need a Music Licence from PPL PRS Ltd. There is an annual fee for this which you can pay online on the PPL PRS website.

Growing plants

If you're going to grow certain plants commercially, then under plant health legislation you may be required to apply for producer authorisation and to issue plant passports/supplier documents to accompany the sale of your plants. These confirm that the plant is substantially free of quality-affecting organisms. You can download the Plant Health Guide to Plant Passporting and Marketing Requirements from the website.

If you plan to operate as a plant breeder you should be aware of plant breeders' rights which are designed specifically to protect new varieties of plant and to prevent the unauthorised exploitation of those plants. More information about plant breeders' rights is available on the website.

You should be aware that many garden plants are potentially harmful in that they are poisonous, can cause skin irritations and allergies and so on. You should make sure that any potentially harmful plants that you stock have been identified and carry the appropriate warning labels. Sales staff should be fully briefed so that they can deal with customers' queries. The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has produced a Code of Recommended Practice relating to the labelling and display of potentially harmful plants which contains further guidance. More information is available on the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) website.

Control of pesticides

Regulations cover the safe storage and sale of pesticides. People selling over a certain amount of agricultural pesticides for other people to use must hold the BASIS Certificate of Competence for Nominated Storekeepers. More information is available on the BASIS website.

Selling seed potatoes

If you sell seed potatoes you should be aware that there is legislation covering how these are classified. You can find out more about the Seed Potato Classification Scheme (SPCS) on the website.

Sunday Trading Act

If your garden centre has a floor area of 280 or more square metres then you will only be permitted to open for six hours on Sundays (this does not apply in Scotland). Contact your local authority for guidance.

Substances that could be used to make explosives

There are special regulations in place to prevent substances that could potentially be used to make explosives getting into the wrong hands. Some substances, which would normally only be available from specialist suppliers, are regulated and can only be supplied to a member of the public who has a licence to obtain and possess them. Other substances, although not regulated, are nevertheless of potential concern. Examples of these, which are referred to as 'reportable substances', include ammonium nitrate, calcium nitrate and calcium ammonium nitrate, any of which may be present in fertiliser products. Products labelled with the 'skull and crossbones' hazard pictogram are also potentially of concern, although they are not classified as reportable under the regulations.

You must report any suspicious transactions (or disappearances due to theft) involving regulated or reportable substances to the police Anti-terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321. A transaction could be suspicious for various reasons, for example because the customer insists on paying cash and/or wants an unusually large quantity of a product containing a reportable substance.

There's more information for businesses about regulated and reportable substances on the website.

Waste Batteries

If your business sells more than 32 kg of portable batteries in a year you must take back used batteries from customers to be recycled. You must provide this service free-of-charge. DEFRA has produced a calculator to help businesses work out whether they sell enough batteries each year to be affected by the new regulations. You can use a similar tool on the Waste Support website.

Food safety

If your business will offer sales of food you must comply with strict food safety legislation. Before you open, you must register your business with the local authority environmental health department. Your local environmental health officer will be able to give you advice and guidance as to what you should install in your premises to make sure your operating areas are hygienic and how to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Act. Note that in Wales food businesses must by law display the hygiene rating they have been awarded following a food hygiene inspection.


There is a wide range of legislation that applies to retailing activities, including online sales, that protects the interests of the consumer. For example, goods and services must not be misleadingly described and the retail price of goods must be clearly displayed. If you make online sales you'll need to make sure your website gives customers details of cancellation rights and procedures. You will be responsible for making sure that all goods or services are fit for their intended purpose and of satisfactory quality.

Don't forget that you must not sell knives or sharply pointed blades to young people aged under 18.

Information about consumer protection and fair trading legislation is available on the website.

Carrier bag charge

A 5 pence charge applies in England, but small and medium-sized businesses (with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent employees) are exempt. You can get detailed guidance from the website.

Retailers in Wales and Scotland must charge customers at least 5 pence if they supply them with a single-use carrier bag. This applies to all types of single-use bag, whether they are made of plastic, paper or plant-based starch. There is detailed guidance on the Gov.Wales and Zero Waste Scotland websites.

In Northern Ireland retailers must charge customers a 5 pence levy on all bags with a retail price of less than 20 pence (including any bags that would otherwise be free of charge), whether they are single-use or reusable.

Health & Safety, fire

You must comply with workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include recruitment, employment contracts, pay, working hours, holidays, employment policies, sickness, maternity, paternity, discrimination, discipline, grievances, dismissals, redundancies and employment tribunals.

Insurance for a garden centre

Contact an insurer or insurance broker and explain exactly how your business will operate - they will then explain what insurance cover you must have by law, and other cover you should consider. This might include:

  • premises (including glass cover), premises contents and stock
  • goods in transit
  • freezer breakdown and heater breakdown
  • cash
  • business interruption
  • employers liability
  • public and products liability
  • motor insurance (for delivery vehicles)

Members of the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) can benefit from tailor-made insurance policies. Visit the HTA Insurance Services website for more information.

When comparing insurance quotes, uncover the differences between policies by using an insurance comparison form.

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