Mike the tree guy

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

Mike Hardy, take a bough. I mean a bow. Mike is one of 20 people around the country being honored with the 2009 Arbor Day Award for their dedication to planting trees and conservation efforts. He figures he's planted 4,000 trees around the city in places like South Philly, the Northeast, Fishtown, Overbrook and East Falls but mostly in his University City neighborhood, where he started University City Green in 1998. "It is people like Michael Hardy who are truly making a difference by putting their values into thoughtful actions that will have a lasting, positive effect in the world,” said John Rosenow, chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation. Arbor Day is this Friday, and the foundation's been giving these awards since 1972. Mike's in good company; other honorees include Nobel Peace Prize recipient Wangari Maathai and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who's a veritable green machine.

Anybody involved with trees in this town knows Mike. I've run into him at Masterman School and University City - and not just at tree-plantings. I've seen him at drought-gardening workshops. I've watched him plant bulbs and perennials and I've often heard him talk about stormwater management through plantings.

Mike is a youthful 71 and says he'll keep planting trees till he can't do it anymore. "My back is telling me you've gotta slow down, old man," he says, "and when they announced this as a lifetime achievement award, I thought, they're trying to tell me something." True. They're telling you you've done a good job.

Trees aren't just pretty things to decorate the landscape," Mike is fond of saying. "They're living machines that can turn things around." They just need a little help getting in the ground.