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The soul of the mugo

The Bonsai Passion of Ruben Ciezar Villanueva

During the last edition of the Trophy held in February in Genk, Belgium, the impressive mugo pine of Ruben Ciezar Villanueva won the overall prize. A reason to pose some questions to him and let him tell us about the development of the winning pine.

How did it all start?

My mother loves flowers and gardening, I went with her to the garden centre when I was a child and when I saw a bonsai I fell in love. Later I saw the film karate kid and was really inspired. This marked my start into the art of bonsai Who is your bonsai teacher, and what is the most important thing you learned?

Ruben next to his multi award semi cascade Yew, restyled by Gabriel Romero.

Who is your bonsai teacher, and what is the most important thing you learned?

I have done a lot of workshops with almost all of the best bonsai artists in the world. Today Gabriel Romero helps me in my garden for a week, five times a year. The most important thing I learned, however, is to be very patient.

Your favourite tree?

Taxus, definitely because it has all the advantages for creating a bonsai, the quality of the wood, its tiny foliage and the colour of the foliage, too. So you can definitely say that yew is my favourite tree.

Do you favour the Japanese or Western bonsai style?

I am very passionate about the Japanese style. As I see it, it’s the origin and soul of the art of bonsai.

How did you acquire the Pinus mugo that won the Trophy this year?

I saw it about 15 years ago and directly fell in love with it. Luis Baliño from Galicia, Spain, was the owner then and had already had the tree for a long time. He worked with Marco Invernizzi on the tree and I definitely wanted to have it in my collection. Luis, however, did not want to sell it to me. After a few years, when I finally managed to obtain this wonderful tree, I was confronted with some problems. The pine suffered from fungus and spider mites. So my first task was to get it back in top condition. So I treated it with good products to tackle the problems. Luckily after some years the mugo became strong and healthy again.

  1. Georg Reinhard works on the mugo during the Ginkgo Award in 2003.
  2. The mugo pine in Luis Baliño’s garden, November 2012.

Why did you change the design of the mugo pine?

The main reason was because of fungus problems when it lost some branches. The mugo was collected by Jean Paul Polmans, his friend Danny Use bought it and then sold it to Luis Baliño.
The original design was made by Georg Reinhard during the Ginkgo awards in 2003. Later when the tree came to Luis Baliño, Marco Invernizzi further adjusted and refined its design.


As soon as the pine was strong again, bonsai Master Kazuo Yajima helped me to push the tree to the next level. Kazuo sees the soul of the tree and chooses the best solutions. From 2009 to 2013 the mugo received several awards at shows like the recent Trophy, the show at Alcobendas near Madrid in 2010, the European Bonsai san Show in Saulieu (France) and at the show at Bonsai Mistral (Spain).
For me it is an honour to be the owner of this fantastic bonsai and I hope to have it forever.

The winning mugo pine (Pinus mugo) as it looks today.

Ruben Ciezar Villanueva (46)
Born in: Leon, Spain
Married to: Lorena Vilas Gonzalez
Education: Engineer.
Profession: Businessman
Into bonsai since: 1984
Favourite species: Taxus

Together with Master Kazuo Yajima working on another large pine.

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Publication dates

English language edition 2024Publication Dates
IssueE-MagazineEuropeRest o/t World
2024-1 #186 | #209- January /FebruaryJan. 1, 2024Jan. 15Jan. 22
2024-2 #187 | #210- March / AprilMar. 4Mar. 18Mar. 25
2024-3 #188 | #211- May / JuneMay 6May 20May 27
2024-4 #189 | #212 -July / AugustJuly 1July 15July 22
2024-5 #190 | #213- September / OctoberSep. 2Sep.16Sep. 23
2024-6 #191 | #214- November / DecemberNov. 4Nov. 18Nov. 25

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